Student Research Spotlight - Javier Hernandez
Javier Hernandez won the Graduate Research Award for the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences for his oral presentation during the virtual 2021 Auburn Research: Student Symposium.
Hometown: Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Degree and major: Doctorate in Forestry
School: Forestry and Wildlife Sciences
Department: Forest Products Development Center
Class year: 2023
Faculty mentor: Maria Soledad Peresin
Revalorization of Downed Timber, Natural Polymers Recovery and its use as Mass Timber Protection Coatings
What are you researching?
My research is focused on the valorization of biomass—particularly downed timber as a result of catastrophic events, such as hurricanes and tornados—into value-added products. In particular, we focus on understanding the degradation process undergone by the downed timber in the southeastern U.S., specifically in the harsh conditions of the summer in Alabama, and to divert the different polymers present in the wood to an array of products with commercialization potential. Of particular interest in my project is the isolation of lignin and cellulose particles for developing protective coating formulations for mass timber products.
How could the results benefit individuals, agencies or companies?
The impact of one hurricane can cost billions of dollars in timber profit. As an example, when hurricanes Katrina and Rita affected the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, more than $2 billion in losses were calculated for timber landowners. Redirecting the salvage efforts of downed timber to valuable products would open new income sources for landowners in the region. The product I am focused on is coatings applied to mass timber products for construction, improving the protection against humidity and UV light of wood composites using natural polymers.
Tell us why you enjoy research.
Designing products based on natural polymers fulfills my desire to help create sustainable solutions for existing technologies in which we can be proactive while still being respectful of our ecosystems. I specially enjoy my project because it offers a wide range of opportunities to work all the way from the field back to our laboratory.
What advice would you give to other students considering doing a research project?
First, define a general topic that motivates your curiosity, then find professors working in that field and talk with them. Often, they will have opportunities in advance for you to work with them, and you will get hands-on experience that will help you determine if your research interest is right for you. Be conscious that a research topic involves long-term work compromise.
Tell us about any hobbies or activities you enjoy.
I enjoy traveling, cooking for my friends and swimming. When I have some free time, I also enjoy kayaking in Alabama rivers and lakes.