UT-ORII Selects Two New $20M UT-ORNL Convergent Research Initiatives

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Circular Bioeconomy Systems Team Chosen from Among 54 Proposals

The University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute (UT-ORII) has selected circular bioeconomy systems and radiopharmaceutical therapies as its two newest Convergent Research Initiatives (CRIs), areas of joint research for UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Over the next five years, UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will invest $40 million—$20 million per initiative—and work jointly to accelerate world-leading innovation and establish UT and ORNL as national leaders in these areas.

“These two new convergent research initiatives along with an additional CRI next year will bring more than 100 new UT and ORNL researchers together across our state to tackle some of our nation’s biggest challenges while also bringing in new funds to Tennessee,” said Randy Boyd, UT System president. “That means more opportunities for graduate students and more opportunities for Tennesseans.”

UT-ORII’s new circular bioeconomy systems CRI team will leverage the strengths of ORNL and the UT Institute of Agriculture’s long-established work across the state to partner with two crucial Tennessee industries: auto manufacturing and agriculture/forestry to create a circular bioeconomy systems testbed. The group aims to use emerging science to produce materials from sustainable carbon sources, pioneering the shift toward low-energy and low-carbon-intensity circular agriculture, and manufacturing.

The core technical leadership group for UT-ORII’s new circular bioeconomy systems CRI will be the proposal’s leads: Erin Webb, an ORNL senior research and development engineer and lead for the laboratory’s Bioresource Science and Engineering Group and Niki Labbe, a professor and assistant director of the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Center for Renewable Carbon. Supporting subject matter experts are Gerald Tuskan, the director of the Department of Energy’s Center for Bioenergy Innovation at ORNL and an ORNL corporate fellow and Alexei Sokolov, UT-ORNL’s Governor’s Chair for Polymer Science.

See the full release here.


Patricia McDaniels

UTIA Marketing and Communications


Niki Labbe, professor and assistant director, Center for Renewable Carbon