Donors, State invest $8 mn to fund Advanced Fiber Center at Clemson

November 07, 2008 - United States Of America

Generous private gifts and a state match have raised a total of $8 million to establish the Advanced Fiber-based Materials Center of Economic Excellence at Clemson University.

The Center of Economic Excellence is the nexus for a community of scholars and entrepreneurs with shared interests and expertise in natural and synthetic polymer-based advanced fibrous materials and will work in partnership with Clemson’s National Science Foundation-created Center for Advanced Engineering Fibers and Films. The CoEE will be home to the J.E. Sirrine Textile Foundation Endowed Chair in Advanced Fiber-based Materials.

Researchers will work to develop advanced synthetic polymers and to enhance natural fibrous materials, including wool, cotton and silk. Other studies will focus on fiber-reinforced composite materials based on metals, ceramics and polymers for high-performance — yet lightweight — applications in automotive, space, athletic equipment and medical prosthetic markets.

“Our generous donors have helped the School of Materials Science and Engineering achieve a milestone that will have tremendous educational and economic impact,” said director Kathleen Richardson. “We are very grateful for their investment, as the benefits will extend far beyond Clemson and the state of South Carolina. Participation by such a diverse range of fiber-based companies and private individuals in this initiative shows the strength of this community and an admirable willingness to work together to retool and retrain the knowledge base that exists across fiber disciplines within the state.”

“This truly partners Clemson’s long-time strength in fiber-based materials with existing industry strength in this important area,” said Clemson President James F. Barker. “There is no field of research in which Clemson University has a longer and more significant history than that of fiber-based materials.”

Industrial partners and individuals established endowments and made investments that total $4 million to support the research and educational activities in the Advanced Fiber-Based Materials Research Center.

Those donors include: the J.E. Sirrine Textile Foundation: $2.9 million (announced in 2005); KENTWOOL: $500,000; and Brian and Amanda Morin: $250,000. Additional donors include: Mettler Toledo; Inman-Riverdale Foundation; Carey Jordan and Brian Simmons; X-Rite Inc.; Mr. and Mrs. H. Jack McCall; the estate of Elizabeth F. Rivers; Glen Raven; Alfred W. Thomas III, president, Frankl & Thomas Inc., and two anonymous donors.

“Our company is honored to support the Advanced Fiber-based Materials Center of Economic Excellence, which in turn supports the fiber industry in our region,” said KENTWOOL President and CEO Mark Kent. “We believe our unique partnership in innovation and education with Clemson University will support sustainable economic development strategies in South Carolina, and our corporate vision to become the premier wool innovation and manufacturing company in the world.”

"There is no better place in the world in which to develop advanced fibers than in South Carolina, where the infrastructure and talent are so ingrained through our rich textile and fiber heritage,” said CEO Brian Morin of Innegrity LLC, a Greenville County-based developer and producer of high-performance fibers for ballistic-protection, transportation and sporting-goods applications.

“We are proud to be a part of this new center and look forward to growing the interaction between Innegrity and Clemson, which has helped us sprout from just an idea into the healthy sapling we are now.”

The South Carolina Centers of Economic Excellence Program (http://www.sccoee.org/), was established by the General Assembly in 2002 and is funded through South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds.

The legislation authorizes the state’s three public-research institutions to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina’s economy. The state funds must be matched dollar-for-dollar by private investment in the program. The program also supports CoEE endowed chairs, world-renowned scientists who lead the Centers of Economic Excellence.

This state program awarded the Advanced Fiber-based Materials Center of Economic Excellence at Clemson in 2006 with $4 million to be matched in private funds. The center will be a focal point for existing and emerging research activities examining new fibrous materials systems and manufacturing technologies, including discovery and initial commercialization of technically innovative materials and processes.

It is expected that these higher value-added applications will build on the existing knowledge base of fiber expertise within the state and will lead to a more advanced fiber-product base, creating superior industries that will support the retooling and retraining of skilled workers, leading to business growth, job retention and further job creation.

“Clemson University has a rich, rich history in textiles and fibers,” said professor of materials science and engineering Mike Ellison. “Couple this knowledge and depth with the experience of the brightest minds today that the new Center of Economic Excellence will attract and you’re looking at the cutting edge of science and technology for materials. It’s all right here.”

While much of the traditional textile industry has gone overseas to cheaper labor markets, Clemson University’s School of Materials Science and Engineering has expanded into different high-tech niche areas of the market. For example, biomedical fibers are being tested for artificial arteries, scaffolds for cell or bone growth and self-healing fabrics that promote skin reconstruction.

Non-traditional “textile” fibers, such as inorganic glasses, are being produced for use in chemical and biological-sensing platforms, telecommunication systems and defense-sensing and warfare applications.