Exploring biomass as a renewable energy and material source
This interview was conducted in spring 2017, when Fei Chang was a 2016/17 Business Development Fellow.
Fei Chang is a six-year Ph.D. candidate in the Chemistry Department. He will receive his degree this summer. As a graduate student, Chang had a one-year medicinal chemist internship at GlaxoSmithKline working on drug discovery. In late 2016 he cofounded Furanica Inc. to commercialize his patented technology of producing furan fatty acids as nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.
What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it?
As we know, traditional fossil resources are nonrenewable and they contribute to serious environmental issues such as global climate change and habitat destruction. They can also severely destabilize our petroleum-based economy due to the volatility of crude oil price. Biomass is a renewable, carbon-neutral and environment-friendly resource that has gained significant interest in recent years for its commercial potential to replace, at least partially, the existing petroleum-based fuels and chemicals.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
The main focus of my graduate work is to convert biomass into plastics, fuels and value-added products (e.g., agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals). The key driver of the technology is its commercial potential. The economic and environmental imperatives on the near horizon force us to evaluate what we want to do in the light of industrial relevance and practicability. With that in mind, I took a one-year internship in the pharmaceutical industry. Working with industrial researchers, whose perspective of science is complementary in many respects to that of the academician, was a very valuable experience for me, and this experience eventually led me to commercialize my research.
How will what you have learned as a Business Development Fellow help you change the world?
This program really helped me with this business effort. It widened the keyhole through which I have been looking at the world. In addition to the business knowledge I learned from the MBA classes, I made connections with people with different backgrounds and perspectives, all of which allowed me to micro-adjust my business value proposition to reach a greater potential.