Research for a better tomorrow

Steve Hsu Keystone Research Scholar inspires advancement in sustainable manufacturing

As an undergraduate student researching semiconductor manufacturing, Meng Zhang was fascinated by the research and the teamwork he experienced. As a professor, Meng continues to research advanced manufacturing, but with the added distinction of being named a Steve Hsu Keystone Research Scholar.

Since he was awarded the honor of Steve Hsu Keystone Research Scholar in 2016, Meng has been able to pursue projects that would otherwise not be possible because of available funds and resources. As an experimentalist, Meng and his research group can explore preliminary ideas to generate trial results for future grant submissions. The additional budget provided by being a research scholar adds a level of flexibility and efficiency for Meng’s research team. Now, Meng’s team can experiment with ideas that seem far removed from current projects or are difficult to execute. These preliminary experiments evolve quickly to provide insight into the success or failure of an idea.

Meng believes manufacturing value-added products by utilizing renewable and domestically available biomass such as wheat straw, corn stover, and switchgrass, creates the backbone of a sustainable economy. In order to achieve this, Meng is currently researching biomass preprocessing, including pelleting and size reduction, 3D bioprinting of living tissues for wound healing, fiber-reinforced additive manufacturing and other topics.

Meng’s research team has made advancements in understanding process optimization for converting biomass to biofuels as well as the relationship between cellulosic biomass structural features and enzymatic hydrolysis sugar yield. As a Steve Hsu Scholar, Meng can further pursue his goal of establishing a sustained, integrated research and education program in manufacturing value-added products utilizing biomass including agricultural and forest residuals and dedicated energy crops.

“Working toward this goal can reduce the world’s dependency on environmentally destructive fossil resources, support agriculture and forestry, strengthen advanced manufacturing for rural communities and grow tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce,” said Meng.

In the future, Meng would like to see renewable and domestically available biomass utilized on a larger scale to increase energy-efficient manufacturing. This goal inspires him to reduce the cost of preparing biomass as conversion-ready feedstocks for downstream operations.

Meng’s time as a researcher and scholar has come full circle since his days as an undergraduate researcher. After receiving his doctorate in industrial engineering in 2014, Meng stayed at K-State as a postdoc fellow and joined the faculty in 2015. As an associate professor of industrial engineering, he now gets to help aspiring other young researchers grow in academic independence.

“There are many scholar activities that I feel proud of since I started my current position, but the one that I feel the most proud of is seeing the growth of a Ph.D. student into an independent researcher who really knows the cutting-edge knowledge in his/her field over the years in our Ph.D. program,” said Meng.

Originally published in October 2020.

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