Div. of Engineering Programs wins equipment grant to fund natural fiber research

Jared W. Nelson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at SUNY New Paltz, has received a $75,000 grant to purchase state-of-the-art equipment that will allow students and faculty to test the structural properties of a range of natural materials.

The award paves the way for the College to establish new public and private partnerships across the bio-industrial supply chain, from farm to industry, in the pursuit of innovative and sustainable solutions to modern engineering challenges.

The grant comes from FuzeHub, a not-for-profit organization that supports technological innovation and commercialization in New York State by fostering connections between higher education, agriculture and manufacturing.

It allows New Paltz to become one of the first universities in North America to obtain and use a Dia-stron extensometer, a piece of equipment that enables previously-impossible degrees of precision in dimensional fiber analysis.

“This investment in new equipment will enable improved research of natural materials to inform their use in end products ranging from interior upholstery in automobiles to reinforcing plastics used in building materials and sporting goods,” Nelson said. “By gaining a better understanding of the properties of these materials, the Division of Engineering Programs at SUNY New Paltz can serve as a leading resource connecting farmers, processors and end-users in this burgeoning industry.”

Natural fibers likely to be tested using this new equipment include hemp, flax, jute, kenaf, bamboo, sisal, cotton and wool, among others.

The study of hemp aligns with statewide objectives regarding that plant’s industrial applications. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been a strong proponent of hemp’s potential as an engine of growth in New York State. In July 2017, he signed legislation and announced new initiatives to advance hemp research, agricultural development and industrial processing.

In accordance with those initiatives, SUNY New Paltz will register with the state as a hemp processor, to work only with the stalk of the plant (which is exempt from the Controlled Substances Act), and only with regulated producers, as outlined by the FuzeHub grant.

While hemp has been a priority for state policy makers, that material is just one of many that will be a focus of the research at New Paltz. Other natural materials, such as flax and kenaf, also have untapped potential for affordable, reliable use in manufacturing, according to Nelson.

“With this new equipment, our group will be able to develop new testing methods for these highly variable fibers,” he said. “Identifying the precise impact of variations in each material will help us predict how these materials could serve as replacements for synthetic fibers to achieve lighter weight, acoustic insulation, thermal insulation or other outcomes.”

Nelson is optimistic that this research will create opportunities to further develop bio-industrial materials initiatives right here at the College, in collaboration with groups throughout the state.

Many in-roads with regional partners have already been established. The FuzeHub grant names Battenkill Fibers Carding and Spinning Mill, Preprocess Inc. and Sunstrand LLC as private collaborators. The Research Foundation for The State University of New York will provide fiscal administration for the project on behalf of SUNY New Paltz.

Read more online about the Division of Engineering Programs at SUNY New Paltz.