By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri‑Cities

Bin Yang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Washington State University Tri‑Cities, has been selected for the Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award — the most prestigious appointment in the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Fulbright currently awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Of those, 40 are selected for the Fulbright Distinguished Chair Award. Yang marks the first professor in WSU history to be selected for the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Energy and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources Award.

Beginning in August, he will serve for six months through the Fulbright program at Aalto University in Finland, while on sabbatical leave from WSU. While in Finland, he will teach and conduct research. In addition, he will continue to manage his research team at WSU.

His research at Aalto University will focus on the development of novel lignin-based compounds that do not resemble an existing petroleum-derived compound in structure. Lignin is a material comprised in the cell wall of plants and is one of the largest waste products in the bioproducts industry because it is so hard to break down and process. Yang, however, aims to use the material to create a range of bioproducts.

Yang said he is elated to expand his research and to communicate the scientific achievements of WSU’s Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL) in the bioproducts sector, learn more about bioproducts research achievements and processes in Europe, as well as learn about the Finland’s educational structure, which is a world leader.

“I’m excited about the dialogue between our two universities and two countries,” he said. “I believe this outcome will allow me to work with professors and students at Aalto University in order to apply my expertise in bioproducts and biofuels technologies. I am grateful that both Aalto University and WSU are willing and able to accommodate this desire so graciously, and I believe it will work to everyone’s best interests.”

Juming Tang, chair of the biological systems engineering department at WSU, said Yang is an outstanding contributor for the graduate program of biological systems engineering, which is ranked 14th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

“Fulbright support will further increase the visibility of our department, BSEL and WSU,” Tang said.

As a Fulbright chair, Yang will address two key challenges:

  • Developing breakthroughs in science and technologies for production of high‑value bioproducts from biomass.
  • Fostering next‑generation leaders on the opportunities, challenges and benefits of biofuels and bioproducts.

Yang has served as a faculty member at WSU since 2009. He has dedicated most of his career to the development of renewable energy technologies, with particular emphasis on production of biofuels and bioproducts from cellulosic biomass feedstocks and other sustainable resources.

His major research interests include:

  • Understanding fundamental mechanisms of bioprocessing technologies for advanced biofuels.
  • Advancing cutting‑edge technologies and facilitating the commercialization process.
  • Improving knowledge of emerging technologies to meet near‑ and long‑term needs worldwide.

He has authored more than 100 peer‑reviewed papers and book chapters and has five patents. He is a recipient of the DARPA Young Faculty Award of 2011. He also serves as an advisory editor board member for many leading biorefinery journals.

Yang’s research has been supported by the:

  • Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (U.S. Department of Defense)
  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • National Science Foundation
  • Sun Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Seattle‑based Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation

He has a joint appointment with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He also serves as a faculty senator and an entrepreneurial faculty ambassador at WSU Tri‑Cities.