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SUNY Research Foundation awards presidential fellowship to ESF faculty member

By Journal Staff


SYRACUSE — The Research Foundation (RF) for the State University of New York (SUNY) has awarded a presidential fellowship to Preston Gilbert, a faculty member at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse.

Gilbert is a senior research associate in ESF’s Department of Landscape Architecture (LA), the school said in a news release.

The RF’s presidential-fellowship program provides a support system to the SUNY Networks of Excellence and an opportunity for faculty to influence and actively pursue SUNY’s research agenda, according to ESF.

Gilbert’s fellowship, one of six that RF awarded, will support his work in designing and implementing the New Forest Economy initiative that ESF developed, the college said.

The initiative is an economic-development strategy and international network that seeks to devise methods for former paper mills and wood-products facilities (and the wood fiber used within the facilities) to meet the needs of existing and developing markets.

New York lost one-third of its paper-making facilities between 1998 and 2012 and is likely to lose more over the next 20 years, Gilbert said in the news release.

“The New Forest Economy project puts these facilities to use, taking advantage of the hundreds of millions of dollars of public and private investment that developed our natural resource-based industrial infrastructure,” he said.

The fellowship program focuses on advancing programs to increase research, collaboration, and human-capital development; enhancing SUNY’s research profile and the honoree’s scientific career and leadership abilities; and developing faculty perspectives on a range of issues.

The fellowship provides support such as RF-funded release time, salary supplements, sabbatical leaves, and summer employment, ESF said.

The New Forest Economy will initially involve projects located statewide in places such as Lyons Falls, Wellsville, Cattaraugus County, and Morrisville. The project could eventually touch as many as 20 facilities across the northeastern U.S. and more than 30 nationally, ESF said.

Gilbert conceived the New Forest Economy in partnership with colleagues Thomas Amidon, Timothy Volk, and Emanuel Carter.

Amidon is an instructor in ESF’s Department of Paper and Bioprocess Engineering. Volk is an instructor in the Department of Forest and Natural-Resources Management. Carter is an assistant professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture, according to the school.

Gilbert provides the economic-development leadership while Amidon and Volk offer technical leadership, ESF said.

The effort’s starting point is New York’s “large and growing” forest resource and the increased biomass availability flowing from the biomass-willow program at ESF that Volk and his colleagues conduct.

The central process in the New Forest Economy project uses a clean, biotechnology process, called hot-water extraction, the school said.

Amidon, co-workers, and ESF students developed the process.

It systematically disassembles wood fiber in an “environmentally friendly way” and uses the wood’s components, such as cellulose and hemicellulosic sugars, to fabricate dozens of bioproducts, ESF said.

The process and associated secondary industries result in “enhanced” produce for human consumption; wood products; biochemicals; compostable and biodegradable plastics; food additives, such as acetic acid and vanillin; pharmaceuticals; nanocrystalline cellulose; and energy products such as wood pellets and liquid fuels, according to ESF.

Gilbert will work with Amidon, Volk, and other faculty members and researchers at ESF, Alfred State College, and Morrisville State College to extend the initiative to other SUNY campuses and weave the New Forest Economy into the development of START-UP NY sites statewide, according to ESF.

START-UP NY is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan that creates tax-free zones on SUNY campuses and other university communities to nurture new and developing business enterprises.

In addition to implementing the New Forest Economy in New York, Gilbert will provide the leadership through ESF to engage Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio; the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point; the University of Minnesota at Duluth; and Washington State University, along with Cardiff University in Wales and universities in China and Brazil in a global-implementation program.

The National Science Foundation, the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, the U.S. Department of Energy, and private industry have provided funding support for the New Forest Economy, ESF said.


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