Wolfgang Glasser receives ACS award for wood chemistry, bio-based composites research

June 19, 2001

(Blacksburg, Va., June 20, 2001) -- For his lifetime of research accomplishments dealing with the structure, properties, and use of wood-derived polymers, the American Chemical Society's Division of Cellulose, Paper, and Textiles has honored Wolfgang Glasser, professor of wood science at Virginia Tech, with the Anselme Payen Award.

The recognition is the top international award for outstanding work in the field of cellulose. The distinction included a $3,000 honorarium and the opportunity for Glasser to give the major research address to his colleagues at a special symposium in San Diego this spring.

Glasser has explored lignin structure, structure-property relationships of lignin-based polymers, the chemistry of biomass processed by steam explosion, cellulose and cellulose derivatives, xylan, chitin, and cellulose-based composites. He points out that the hierarchical structures found in biological materials can guide the development of synthetic polymers.

At Virginia Tech, Glasser established the Biobased Materials Center as a Technology Development Center of Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), and he participates in the work of the Wood-Based Composites Center as a researcher and member of the steering committee.

Biobased materials are defined as products other than food or feed that use biological, renewable agricultural or forestry materials. Concerns over rising carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions, general environmental quality, and growing dependence on fossil resources have heightened industrial interest in technologies that use biobased (renewable) resources.

With the help of the CIT, Virginia Tech established a pilot facility to demonstrate the conversion of carbohydrate-rich residues from agricultural and forest products, including waste paper, into fibers and chemicals. Fibers are useful sources for structural board products, and plant-based chemicals have been transformed into biodegradable plastics and resins. The resins have been tested successfully as adhesives and binders in such products as printed circuit boards.

The regeneration of cellulose (wood pulp) from solvents unknown 30 years ago has become an estimated 200-million-pound commercial practice in at least three countries including the United States. Lignin, the natural glue that provides wood fibers with their strength and that is removed during papermaking, has become a two-billion pound (one million ton) global business worth $180 million for products used in construction, textile manufacture, oil production, and many other applications.

The combination of abundant wood fibers and recycled plastics is the basis for a new industry manufacturing almost one billion pounds of non-conventional, reinforced thermoplastic composites that grows as much as 60 percent a year. The performance (including its light weight), cost, and appeal of natural fibers is boosting the automotive industry's aspirations to construct vehicles in the future whose wood and agro-fiber content is at least five-times higher than the current level of 20 to 30 pounds per car.

Glasser has numerous patents in the field of biobased composites. Early patents dealt with lignin use in structural materials such as insulation foams, adhesives, resins, and composite matrices. Recent inventions involve unusual transformations of polysaccharides into high value materials useful in pharmaceutical and health science products.

He serves on the editorial advisory boards for Holzforschung, Cellulose Chemistry and Technology, and the Journal of Applied Polymer Scienc, and was recently been named editor-in-chief of the journal Cellulose.

For five years, Glasser served as associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Natural Resources.

More than 50 students and research associates have completed thesis and research studies in his laboratory, resulting in more than 200 publications, four edited books, and 14 patents. He has also served as an external examiner for dissertations and graduate committees in Europe, Scandinavia, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, and Africa.

Glasser is a member of the American Chemical Society, recently serving as councilor for the Cellulose, Paper and Textile Division; the Bio/Environmentally Degradable Polymer Society; Sigma Xi; the Society of Wood Science and Technology; and the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry. Glassser credits his many and diverse research interests to his involvement in numerous research organizations worldwide: he spent one to 12-month research-study leaves in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Grenoble, France; Singapore; Kyoto, Japan; Toulouse, France; and Gothenborg, Sweden.

His degrees are from the University of Hamburg and, prior to joining the faculty at Virginia Tech in 1972, he was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Washington.

Glasser's wife, Heidi R. Glasser, a mathematician, worked with him until 1985 on the programming aspects of his research. In 1974, the George Olmsted Award of the American Paper Institute was presented jointly to the Glassers recognizing "their original and outstanding research related to the paper industry, notably in the field of application of computer t echniques in the simulation of reactions with lignin. Through the extension and re finement of the techniques developed by the Glassers, much experimental work vital to the pulp andpaper industry can now be conducted more quickly and efficiently on computers rather than in laboratories. In 1986, the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations Scientific Acheivement Award recognized the international scope and impact of the Glassers' work.
PR Contact: Lynn Davis
davisl@vt.edu 540 231-6157

Virginia Tech

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