Sustainability in Pennsylvania: A Recipe for Success
The Keystone State is growing innovation where academia and industry intersect.
Strategic partnerships in the food processing and manufacturing sector are part of what help Pennsylvania thrive.
Each year, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) provides grants to support partnerships between businesses and universities under a collaboration called the Manufacturing PA Innovation Program. These projects provide an opportunity for students to learn from real-world applications and for businesses to benefit from the high-end resources that universities provide.
From repurposing waste produced by a local brewery to creating a sustainable foam packaging alternative, the 2022 grant awardees are helping aim the industry’s sights on sustainability in Pennsylvania.
“This kind of grant is really unique,” says Radika Bhaskar, assistant professor of engineering at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. “It’s amazing that the state offers this opportunity for this connection between academia and industry.”
Bhaskar is the principal investigator for a grant in support of innovations at Think and Grow Farms, a Philadelphia-based company owned by Dr. Jamie Green. Together with Green, Bhaskar and her students at Thomas Jefferson are working to develop a line of sustainable foam packaging using components from mushrooms and hemp. The packaging will be used to ship Think and Grow Farms’ line of high-density nutraceuticals worldwide.
“The DCED role in economic development can’t be overstated,” Green says. “DCED, by investing in a tech transfer project, helped me get my research done so I can take the research information and apply it inside my business.”
Bhaskar and Green emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion in this sector, too. “There has to be a broader STEM workforce, more diverse and inclusive participation,” Bhaskar says.
While this partnership is beneficial from a business perspective, Green points out the potential impact of the sustainability sector on Pennsylvania at large.
“How do we get more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities aware of these biomaterial opportunities?” Green says. “This opens so many opportunities for so many people if they only knew about it.”
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New Uses for Food Waste
At Gannon University in Erie, students led by Dr. Xiaoxu Ji are exploring ways to reuse waste and increase productivity at Lavery Brewing Co. The brewer’s spent grain, or BSG, from the brewing process has many practical applications. Part of their research will explore the use of BSG as a composite material in 3D printing.
“It’s a really good transition for students from academia to industrial,” Ji says. “They learn conceptual knowledge in this four-year study, and they can really work on the real-world problems in this partnership with private manufacturing.”
Ji and his students have collected data from the daily movements of Lavery Brewing employees to find new ways to prevent workplace injury. Many local breweries operate with a small staff in which every worker is essential.
“If they get injured, you can imagine how much workload will apply to the other workers,” Ji says. “That will greatly affect their productivity and economy.”
By repurposing waste from breweries and reducing workplace dangers, their research will likely have a broader impact on Pennsylvania breweries, and potentially other businesses as well.
Crafting Long-Lasting Products
Altered State Distillery in Erie has partnered with Drexel University in Philadelphia to research ways of prolonging the shelf life of canned cocktail drinks.
Led by Dr. Caroline Schauer, the research will focus on ways to capitalize on a rapidly growing ready-to-drink (RTD) canned cocktail market.
The unique design of Altered State Distillery’s beverages helps them to stand out from the crowd. With research assistance from Drexel, the company can help itself stand out even further by extending the shelf life of its products, which rely on natural ingredients.
As awareness and support of sustainability in the food industry continue to rise, the DCED provides opportunities for economic growth.
In 2022, the Manufacturing Innovation Program launched over 30 different projects across several universities, totaling over $2 million of investment in industrial innovation. “Pennsylvania has some of the best universities in the world,” Green says. “It is a perfect place to be in this space.”
Get to Know Pennsylvania
Want to learn more about living and working in Pennsylvania? Check out the latest edition of Livability Pennsylvania: Work Smart. Live Happy.