Working towards a sustainable future is no small task. That’s why North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences continues to expand its faculty with experts equipped to address pressing challenges, including food sustainability.
Minliang Yang, an assistant professor in food sustainability, recently joined the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences to develop sustainable solutions for the global food system. She’s using analysis tools to create strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in food and bioprocessing while creating healthier and more sustainable food.
“NC State is one of a few universities that offer this dedicated sustainability position in food science,” Yang says. “It’s kind of a new direction in food science.”
Becoming a Scientist
Yang’s passion for food started while growing up in the Hunan Province in China.
“The Hunan Province is very famous for spicy food and snack foods. Especially at night, there are streets full of different kinds of snacks from tofu to noodles to fried rice.”
Her interest in science sprouted from both of her parents being civil engineers, and she grew up watching them draw designs and make calculations.
“I thought I was going to be like them. I loved to see them exploring unknowns, and I found there are common things between engineers and scientists. The process was fascinating, and it inspired me to be a scientist. It’s all about solving unknowns and providing answers to the best of your ability.”
With two passions in tow, Yang earned her undergraduate degree in food science and technology from the Henan University of Technology. She then moved to Ames, Iowa, to earn her master’s degree and Ph.D. in agricultural and biosystems engineering from Iowa State University. Her research there was focused on utilizing biomass to produce second-generation biofuel and bioproducts and assessing the cost and life-cycle carbon footprint associated with these bioprocesses.
She was a postdoctoral researcher in the Joint BioEnergy Institute at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory before joining NC State in January 2023.
Yang’s research at NC State is focused on improving the sustainability of the global food system using quantitative sustainability analysis tools called technoeconomic analysis (TEA) and life-cycle assessment (LCA).
“My research is focused on applying those two tools to explore different strategies to mitigate the environmental footprint in the food supply chain, ranging from agriculture production, land utilization and food processing to food waste utilization and upcycling. And at the same time, how can we produce value-added products at an affordable price to ensure both economic and environmental sustainability?”
Yang is studying the food system at many different stages. For example, growing food requires substantial natural resources. Yang hopes to develop strategies to better utilize the limited natural resources to grow more food for our growing population. In addition, food processing involves heating and cooling processes. Yang wants to work towards decarbonizing the processes and reducing and adding value to food waste.
In addition to research, Yang will start teaching a new food system sustainability course next spring, and she’s honored to be the person who gets to focus on this important topic.
“In science, sustainability is relatively new compared to other fields. There are lots of questions that remain unanswered and lots of puzzles that need to be solved. I’m very excited to be the person solving these problems. As a scientist, I feel like it’s our responsibility to provide recommendations and solutions to the world.”
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.