Two WSU faculty named National Academy of Inventors senior members

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Engineering professors Shulin Chen and Xiao Zhang have been honored as senior members of the National Academy of Inventors.

The Academy recognizes senior members for their success in patents, licensing, and commercialization as well as for having produced technology that has, or will have, a significant impact on society. They will both be inducted formally at the Academy’s annual meeting in June in Washington, D.C.

Close portrait of a man in a glasses and suit and tie

Shulin Chen
Professor, Biological Systems Engineering

In another initiative, Chen has produced biochemicals from organic waste using microbial “cell factories,” yeasts that synthesize target biochemicals using metabolic pathways. His team also developed a method for extracting high-value products from potato peels, a waste by-product of potato processing. His method turns phytochemical and nutrient-rich waste into a revenue stream. Chen holds ten U.S. patents for his innovations.

Chen’s research focuses on making industrial processes more sustainable. His projects include development of bioconversion processes and systems for the production of biofuel, bioenergy, and bioproducts. Using anaerobic digestion systems, his research team has invented a process to convert manure and other dairy-industry waste to bioenergy which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. His team’s systems also recover nutrients from wastewater, alleviating concerns about surface and groundwater pollution. Six anaerobic digestion systems are now functioning throughout the state of Washington. 

Xiao Zhang

Xiao Zhang
Professor, Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering

Zhang’s research centers around improving understanding of plant macromolecules, such as cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose. Zhang has led the development of a number of bio-based product innovations for industrial applications, including: a cellulose-based coating for plant protection, foam packaging technologies, and lignin-derived composites and chemicals. Two technologies developed with WSU colleagues were recently licensed to multibillion-dollar companies.

Some of Zhang’s patented innovations include plant-based compositions to protect plants from cold damage; cellulose foams for high-performance insulation; conversion of knot rejects from chemical pulping; and fractionation of a waste liquor stream from nanocrystalline cellulose production. He has collaborated with many industrial partners on the development of these new bio-based materials and co-founded a start-up company, Pomona Technologies. Zhang is a recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER AWARD and C. Howard Smith Award from Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada. He holds a joint appointment with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Energy and Environment Directorate and is part of WSU Tri-Cities’ Bioproducts, Science, and Engineering Laboratory.

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