AUBURN, Ala. – In an effort to advance research ideas that benefit society and the economy, Auburn University recently awarded two faculty research projects $100,000 in LAUNCH funding support.
Established in 2015 by the Auburn University Research and Economic Development Advisory Board, the LAUNCH Fund for Research and Innovation involves an associated competition designed to bridge the gap between innovative research and the marketplace. The fund was created with the support of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. This year’s annual pitch competition was held virtually through Zoom, the online meeting platform, with Auburn’s top entrepreneurial faculty pitching ideas for research projects with the potential to impact the economy of the state and region.
This year’s recipients, both from the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, will receive cash stipends from a pool of approximately $100,000 toward the commercialization of their work. The recipients are Zhihua Jiang, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and director of the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering, and Majid Beidaghi, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Jiang’s winning project was titled “Novel and Sustainable Feed Binder from Soy Hulls.” Feed binders are widely used to hold or bind different feed components together for increasing the water stability of aquaculture diets and the durability of feedstuffs. Jiang and his team—Burak Aksoy of Chemical Engineering and Mediha Aksoy and Benjamin Beck of the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services–are developing a compound feed binder made of soybean hulls, an agricultural waste product. This novel feed binder product made 100 percent from soy hulls has a great potential to penetrate the existing and growing global animal feed market valued at more than $400 billion in the U.S.
Beidaghi’s winning project was titled “Development of Inks and Printing Technology for 3D Printing of Batteries.” Beidaghi’s research focuses on the development and formulation of inks, or filament, for the fabrication of batteries, including Li-ion batteries, or LIBs, through a simple extrusion-based 3D printing process. 3D printing will allow fabrication of batteries with complex designs and form factors for both conventional and advanced applications. 3D printed batteries will show an excellent performance in small footprint areas and volumes to address the increasing demand for efficient energy storage devices for small and portable electronics.
“We are deeply honored to receive this award,” said Jiang. “Our technology addresses the existing and growing global animal feed market. We expect that this LAUNCH funding will play a critical role in making the technology ready for commercialization.”
Beidaghi echoed those sentiments, stating, “It is an honor for us to receive this award. Printed batteries are rapidly gaining attention for various applications ranging from wearable and flexible electronics to self-powered sensors. Our technology will potentially transform how batteries and other energy storage devices are manufactured. Funding from the LAUNCH program will greatly help us to develop our battery inks and printing methods further and introduce our technology to potential licensees and partners.”
As LAUNCH award recipients, the researchers will have the opportunity to meet with experts in entrepreneurship from Auburn’s Harbert College of Business and with IAC staff members to develop the plans for commercial success. Researchers may also be partnered with Auburn alumni and friends with extensive experience in industries related to the projects.
“Auburn is committed to providing a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem for our faculty, staff, and students as a natural extension of our land-grant mission and the mission of Auburn Research Park,” said Cary Chandler, director of the LAUNCH program and director of business development and start-ups for Auburn’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization, or IAC. “The LAUNCH Program is a critical part of that environment and plays an important role in delivering science-based solutions to our region and beyond. These are the ‘big ideas’ that will create jobs, grow our economy, and improve quality of life, and we are pleased to support this year’s outstanding winners.”
The goal is to fund an endowment of $10 million that will generate $400,000 annually for research grants. Until it is fully funded, Auburn’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development is providing the awards. More information on LAUNCH is available online.
(Written by Mitch Emmons)