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Bioinnovation: Turning Sawdust into Plastic

USTAR-endowed professor Dr. Foster Agblevor is running at full pace on multiple projects aimed at making the world a healthier place.

Last fall, the biological engineering professor won a grant from the National Science Foundation to support his ongoing work in turning organic plant material into bio-based plastics and oil. This exciting research centers on a collaboration with Egyptian experts and local farmers. At many of Egypt’s rice, cotton and banana farms, plant residues including leaves and stems are burned in the fields – a practice that contributes to a growing air quality problem that impacts the nation’s public health and threatens to deteriorate its ancient monuments.

The goal is to create a new low-cost catalyst that breaks plant material down into oils or sugars that can be used to make plastic, foam, insulation, adhesives and other products. The result would be cleaner air and reduced dependency on petroleum for everyday goods. This and other biomass conversion research has earned him a J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Award.

In a separate project, he and his student researchers are working with biomedical experts to extract the heath-promoting compounds of Korean red ginseng to fight cancer, diabetes and other disease. The properties of the extracts will be evaluated in combined radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments in clinical trials at the SORAM Bio-Medicine Institute in Seoul.