Jan. 21, 2020

NDSU researcher creates value from agricultural byproducts


Niloy Chandra Sarker, past ND EPSCoR-funded researcher with the Center for Sustainable Materials Science (CSMS) and May 2019 doctoral graduate at NDSU in agricultural and biosystems engineering, explores novel biobased materials in his research efforts.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work on three different wheat bran projects with CSMS,” Sarker said. “Wheat bran is a North Dakota agricultural byproduct, but it has great potential for multiple value-added uses. “Right now, the bran is very cheap, and often thrown away as a byproduct. If we can help make it more valuable with other uses, it benefits the farmers, as well as the environment.”

In the lab, Sarker has worked with arabinoxylan, a type of cellulose that is found in the outer shell or bran of cereal grains such as wheat. In collaboration with CSMS researchers Khwaja Hossain, professor of biology at Mayville State University, Chad Ulven, associate chair and professor of  mechanical engineering at NDSU, and Mohiuddin Quadir, assistant professor of coatings and polymeric materials at NDSU, Sarker has used the cellulose to develop a nanoparticle-sized biopolymer that can deliver nutrients or medicines to plants.

“We’re using plants to help plants,” Sarker said. “Are there better ways to deliver nutrients to plants, or medicines to people? These nanocarriers may change how nutrients are delivered since they can target certain types of cells.”

A second use of the wheat bran is in biochar.

“Our research shows the biochar could potentially become a treatment for wastewater, removing oil particles and heavy metals,” Sarker said. “Finally, we’ve been able to experiment with bran biochar as a replacement for fly ash to create a ‘self-healing’ concrete material.”

With biochar, the water treatment and concrete research is in the early stages, but the concept has been proven successful at the bench scale. The next step will be added research to see if it works on a larger scale. The challenge many researchers experience in proving an idea is that while it can be produced in minute quantities in the lab, the materials don’t always perform the same way when tested in larger batches. Throughout his research, Sarker has targeted replacing synthetic materials with biocompatible materials.

“If we can help make North Dakota agricultural products more valuable while benefitting the environment at the same time, that’s a positive change for everyone,” he said. “We’re now ready to take the next step: making our lab research scalable so it can be responsive to industry uses.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 ND EPSCoR Newsletter.

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