Educational Sessions offered for the 2014 Richmond Expo

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The Department of Sustainable Biomaterials (SBIO) at Virginia Tech and conjunction with the Virginia Forest Products Association (VFPA) and Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) is offering an educational session on May 15, 2014 as part of the 2014 Richmond Expo organized by VFPA. The educational session is divided in two tracks. The morning track will focus on drying operations and the afternoon track will focus on financial management principles for forest products industries.

The educational session will be conducted at the Four Points by Sheraton located at 4700 South Laburnum Avenue, Richmond, vA 2321. Registration details will be set up soon, so please keep yourself tuned for more details. If you have any questions please contact Angela Riegel at (540) 231-7107 or A detailed description of the two tracks can be found in this web address

Morning track: Improving The Quality of Lumber Drying Operations

Session Description

drying pictureLumber drying operations, no matter the size, must provide a good quality product to maintain their customer base. Drying defects not only lead to product value losses but if passed onto the customer can lead to lost sales. In today’s business environment, reducing warp, maintaining good color and stain free lumber, and producing stress free lumber with the proper MC is critically important.

This session is designed to assist anyone drying lumber from the small-scale lumber dryer to commercial drying operations. The techniques and information presented are relevant to both hardwood and softwood lumber drying operations.

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RESEARCH BRIEF: What is survey research?

By Edgar Arias,

Survey research is an observational study mode in the social sciences that gathers information from respondents through the application of a questionnaire, with the purpose of making inferences about the population respondents belong to (Babbie, 2010).  This method is usually preferred when the unit of analysis is the individual person; however, it is also widely used for studies that involve groups or organizations, such as markets or companies.  Surveys are observational rather than experimental because their intent is to capture information without influencing the unit of analysis.  Survey research is an effective way to collect data because the observation can be carried out indirectly – the researcher does not need to be physically with the respondents, instead, it may be self-administered.  Additionally, only a sample of the total population can be observed to make inferences about the whole, as long as the sample is randomly selected.  It is considered as a quantitative method: its purpose is to make inferences about the population the respondents belong to.  Here, the respondent is the individual person that provides data by answering the survey questionnaire.

picture survey research
Figure 1 – Relationship between Purpose of Research and Appropriate Statistics

Goals of Research Survey

Survey researchers may have one or multiple goals to conduct a study.  According to the nature of these goals, studies can be classified as exploratory, descriptive, explanatory or a combination of these.  Exploratory studies are conducted when the researcher is interested in increasing his understanding of the relevance of a topic to a given population, or to assess the feasibility of conducting a larger study.  Descriptive surveys are designed to describe the characteristics and behaviors of the population.  Explanatory surveys area carried out when there is an interest in understanding why things happen (Vaske, 2008).

In order to achieve this objectives, survey researchers generally need to complete following phases:

  1. Specifying the research questions and hypothesis
  2. Design the survey and the implementation plan (i.e. survey methodology)
  3. Collect and analyze data

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RESEARCH BRIEF: Understanding the foundational causes of project failure in the cellulosic biofuel industry

By Jeremy Withers, email:

Cellulosic biofuel for transportation and energy is a renewable pathway to cleaner fuels and ultimately to independence from global fossil fuels.  This pathway is becoming more focused, but with increasing obstacles like: government regulations, supply shortages, and commercial scaling of technology. Thus, leading many companies to search for funding and stakeholder control of technology, the “valley of death (Alexander and Gordon 2009)” for many evolving companies striving to achieve profitable results as fast as possible. Since 2007, 60 biofuel projects have been developed and are currently in one of the three phases of commercialization, below in figure 1. Of those projects only 12% (7) projects have been able to move into late stage commercialization

Figure 1. Front End Loading for potential commercialization (FEL) (Wesner, B. Design for sustainability)
Figure 1. Front End Loading for potential commercialization (FEL) (Wesner, B. Design for sustainability)

The remaining 88% (53) are in the following stages:  38% (23) are stalled in planning, 35% (13) have been cancelled and (8) shut down, and 15% (9) under construction.   Thus, the goal of this research is to gain an in-depth understanding of the causes for the challenges faced by those companies in the cellulosic biofuel industry.

The seven cellulosic biofuel companies in operation currently have a total capital investment of $2.128 billion. Of the seven companies in operation, five technologies have emerged.  Additionally, with so many different technologies still in play the small private investors are backing away, even though the quantity and viability of the cellulosic technology is continually being improved. Essentially, the continuing uncertainty of the existing investment risk has pulled the plug on the many financial private outlets willing to lend money.

The added cost of less external investment has left the cellulosic biofuel industry to bolster a considerably larger part of the financial risk, as well as, having to fund aligning themselves within the cellulosic industry and within the biofuel market as a whole to secure the remaining funds.