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Joel Pawlak

Associate Professor, Department of Forest Biomaterials

Biltmore Hall (Robertson Wing) 3118


Dr. Joel Pawlak is a graduate of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University. He joined North Carolina State University in 2001 as an Assistant Professor. In 2007, he was promoted to Associate Professor and currently manages an active research portfolio totaling ~$1 million. Dr. Pawlak has numerous scholarly publication and has received a number of awards for his research. He was named a Syracuse University Scholar in 1997 and awarded the Edwin C. Jahn and Renata Marton Fellowships.

In 2009, Dr. Pawlak took a scholarly leave to UNC Chapel Hill for a sabbatical in the Department of Biology. He has collaborated with numerous departments and universities. These activities have resulted in an interdisciplinary graduate program of study between the Forest Biomaterials and Microbiology departments at NC State University. Dr. Pawlak has served the University on numerous committees including: the Grievance Committee, the Evaluation of Teaching Committee, the Admissions Committee, and the University Budget Advisory Board. Dr. Pawlak is a member of the University Partnership Council and the Research Triangle Environmental Health Collaborative. He is a recognized expert in the field of paper physics and has served as a private consultant for more than 20 companies.

In addition to his active research program and university service, Dr. Pawlak instructs two undergraduate courses, and two graduate courses in the Department of Forest Biomaterials. He is also a recognized educator in the paper industry having instructed more 750 industrial professionals in continuing education workshops. Dr. Pawlak currently resides in Raleigh with his wife Leslie and three children.

Dr. Pawlak’s research focuses on the material science and material engineering of multiphase materials. Current research interests include porous fibrous web structures, foams made from natural materials, natural super-absorbents, enzymatic manipulation of material structure, natural nano-scale fiber composites, and novel application of rheological phenomenon.

Area(s) of Expertise

Engineering multiphase materials, including porous fibrous web structures, foams, natural super-absorbents, enzymatic manipulation of material structure, nano-scale fiber composites, and novel application of rheological phenomenon


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Date: 02/06/19 - 2/05/29
Amount: $15,960.00
Funding Agencies: International Corrugated Packing Foundation (ICPF)

Our proposal will address all three ICPF priority areas. We will ensure that students learn and perform structural design, prototyping, and techno-economic analysis to understand how design, material types/additives, and processes (analog vs. digital) affects product performances, economics, and sustainability aspect. We will also encourage students to take elective courses in sales and marketing.

Date: 06/30/20 - 12/31/24
Amount: $27,222.00
Funding Agencies: VentureWell (formerly know as National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance)

Abstract: With the inevitable coming of the Green Economy, biomass valorization, use of renewable and bio-based materials and development of high-performance, recyclable, biodegradable and biocompatible products are nowadays’ challenges and opportunities to welcome a more sustainable society. Yet, to hasten its arrival, we must answer the daunting question of how we transform these challenges to opportunities? By educating new generations of students to the multiplicity of opportunities or “multiverse” of biomass, from a scientific and engineering perspective to an entrepreneurial vision. The Department of Forest Biomaterials has decades of expertise in conversion and valorization of biomass into new fuels/energies and high-performance biomaterials that offer solutions to greenhouse gas emissions, environmental and aquatic pollution and waste accumulation.We propose to leverage our graduate curriculum by adding an entrepreneurial and business competency to its strong scientific and engineering core. Our envisioned integrated program aims at educating Master and PhD students from NC State University, and others (via an online version) by training them in the principles, practices and methodologies of biomass valorization, conversion, and usage.

Date: 09/15/20 - 9/14/24
Amount: $82,622.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA)

The hygiene tissue industry (bath tissue and kitchen towel) is an annual 39 million tons - USD 100 billion - global market with a forecast to grow ~ 3% per year for the next decade [38], [39]. Most hygiene tissue paper grades require the use of both long and short virgin fibers, which provide strength and softness respectively [8]. As an effect of global megatrends, the demand for non-woody biomass for tissue manufacturing will continue to increase [40], and agricultural biomass, which is perceived to be a sustainable option, can be an important source of short fibers for the tissue industry [41]. Therefore, the need to research and create knowledge on the handling and conversion of biomass sorghum and switchgrass to produce sustainable and high-end fiber furnish for the hygiene tissue industry. The proposed feedstock can be established to supply fiber at industrial scale.

Date: 07/01/21 - 6/30/24
Amount: $719,873.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Consortium Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI)

The purpose of the Consortium on Sustainable and Alternative Fibers Initiative (SAFI) is to develop fundamental and applied research on the use of alternative and sustainable fibers for the manufacturing of market pulp, hygiene products and nonwovens. The idea for SAFI has grown out of societal needs for alternative yet sustainable materials. SAFI will study the potential of alternative fibers based on technical (performance), sustainable and economic principles.

Date: 04/01/22 - 9/30/23
Amount: $107,709.00
Funding Agencies: Eastman Chemical Company

The objective of this proposed research is to appreciate the biodegradation process in nature with regards to natural materials (chemically unprocessed by man), bio-based man-made industrial materials, and synthetic materials by understanding the role of molecular composition and molecular structure and their interactions with naturally available microorganisms. The project will initiate with a literature review and based on the results will progress into a designed laboratory scale biodegradation experiment on a wide variety of natural, biobased man-made, and synthetic materials.

Date: 01/01/22 - 12/31/22
Amount: $75,355.00
Funding Agencies: Cotton, Inc. (No pre-award costs/accounts allowed)

This project creates a novel material for the production of molded plastic cotton composite materials to replace Single-Use Plastics (SUP). SUPs are an environmental concern due to the fact that they are typically based on a non-renewable raw material (petro-chemicals), short useful life, and non-biodegradability. Efforts have been made to replace many single-use plastics with molded pulp products. These products suffer from the problem of high production costs, requirements for highly specific manufacturing technologies, and limited form factors that can be produced. In this project, we propose using recycled cotton textiles in cotton/plastic composites that overcome many of the issues associated with molded pulp products. With this new technology, we expect to be able to produce prototypes of several products, including plates, bowls, and tableware. "

Date: 01/01/19 - 8/15/22
Amount: $150,000.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Nonwovens Institute

It is hypothesized that the biodegradability of synthetic, natural and emerging bio-based polymer product are not fully understood in aerobic or anaerobic conditions in surface waters and may accumulate in the environment. The recalcitrance of some of these natural materials may be due to the chemical or compositional modifications to impart desired product properties. For instance, many naturally based nonwoven materials have additives incorporated to develop water, oil, or UV resistance. The overall goal of this study is to determine the factors that determine the aquatic biodegradability in surface waters (fresh and sea water) of non-woven products used in disposable applications. These factors will include the fiber structure, chemistry and assembly in the non-woven structure. The objectives of the study are the following: (1) To benchmark common disposable non-woven products with regard to their aquatic biodegradation in fresh and sea waters. (2) To benchmark natural fibers, semi-natural biobased fibers, and synthetic fibers used in non- wovens for their aquatic biodegradation in fresh or sea waters. (3) To understand how chemical, physical, and polymeric characteristics of non-woven fibers affect the aquatic biodegradation. (4) To determine how chemical and physical treatments of the fibers affect the aquatic biodegradation. (5) To model and predict the fate of such fibers in the environment, including the lifetime, fate and adsorption of toxic organic chemicals. The results of the study will allow non-woven manufacturers, researchers, suppliers, and consumers to better understand how the choice of materials will affect expected aquatic degradation, allowing all stakeholders to make more informed and better material choice decisions

Date: 01/01/19 - 12/31/21
Amount: $207,840.00
Funding Agencies: Cotton, Inc. (No pre-award costs/accounts allowed)

It is proposed that we extend the findings of the prior research (17-579) to evaluate several different dyes and finishes for fabrics and determine their impact on the aerobic aquatic biodegradation of the fabric particles. 2)We will also perform degradation experiments under anaerobic conditions for the same samples as listed. 3)Samples of the degraded cotton samples will be collected and provided to NCSU College of Textiles (Nelson Vinueza) in order for Textiles to perform chemical characterization of the dyes, finishes and their degradation products.

Date: 12/01/20 - 5/30/21
Amount: $49,968.00
Funding Agencies: Solenis LLC

Solenis is exploring the opportunity to develop effective/efficient wet-end additives to control the dust generated during tissue manufacturing and converting processes. From a manufacturer perspective, dusting and linting represent aspects of major concern as both factors jeopardize productivity, safety, and manufacturing costs. Additionally, recent consumer-based surveys indicate that linting propensity is becoming an important feature driving tissue purchasing decisions since consumers consider “lack of residual lit” to be as important as other key performance attributes such as strength and softness (Vu, 2020). Addressing these issues implies developing (i) the ability to characterize dusting components in terms of type, source, size, and propensity, and (ii) control dust release by understanding how retention relates to dusting at various stages of tissue manufacturing, converting, and product end-use.

Date: 10/01/19 - 11/30/20
Amount: $50,000.00
Funding Agencies: Compania de Empaques

NC State University proposes to develop and implement a science-based business plan to foster commercial applications of fique fiber, for that we will: • Benchmark fique properties (surface chemistry, mechanical properties) against abaca fiber • Identify potential commercial applications of fique fibers, screen options based on technical and financial feasibility and demonstrate proof of concept at bench-scale • Evaluate business cases based on profitability, supply chain, risks, and go-to-market strategies. • For those alternatives selected, propose a business development plant for operational implementation.

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