Sustainability education and innovation at heart of rebuilding U.S. advanced manufacturing

November 22, 2016

Over the coming months, look for stories that feature some of the many Wayne State initiatives and pioneering individuals committed to automotive and manufacturing innovation. This content is part of WSU's Warriors in Action campaign highlighting how Wayne State is making a difference.

Yinlun Huang believes manufacturing is the heart of the U.S. economy. Through his efforts in sustainability education in Wayne State’s College of Engineering, he wants to make sure that statement remains true for many years to come.

Huang, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science, has devoted much of his career to sustainable systems engineering. His work aims to answer many serious questions that have been raised as to the environmental, health and societal impact of traditional manufacturing methods.

“Manufacturing should not sacrifice the resources for future generations,” said Huang.

Huang has monitored domestic and international trends in manufacturing, shaping his educational and research methods to ensure Wayne State University is a leading resource to overcome the challenges associated with global competition and the depletion of natural resources.

“Rebuilding advanced manufacturing is a top priority for both the White House and the National Science Foundation (NSF),” said Huang, who has developed a litany of NSF-funded projects and served on numerous NSF committees and workshops focused on sustainability.

Huang trusts that the United States can achieve its manufacturing goals by “moving aggressively toward an economy that is innovation-fueled, opportunity-rich and sustainable, and by training a cohort of future leaders in this area who have mastered the ability to coalesce multidisciplinary components to create sustainable solutions.”

It is perhaps in the training of those leaders where Huang has made the most profound impact. In 2008, Huang founded the college’s graduate certificate program in sustainable engineering. Nearly 250 Wayne State undergraduate students have engaged in projects that address issues such as biodiesel and transportation fuel manufacturing, as well as energy and toxic chemical reduction in the automotive coating process.

Under the direction of Huang and Jeremy Rickli, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, Wayne State also hosts a Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer academy. This is an extraordinary undergraduate research opportunity and the first of its kind from the NSF in the area of sustainability in advanced manufacturing. The 10-week academy began in 2016 for its first of three consecutive summers.

Sustainability is an essential component to Wayne State’s overall capabilities in advanced materials and manufacturing research, much of which is multidisciplinary and requires interdepartmental faculty collaboration.

“Integration of sustainability in engineering education has moved to the forefront of undergraduate program enhancement as it becomes widely recognized that the next generation of engineers will face serious sustainability challenges in the practice of their profession,” said Huang.