Rising Star in Industrial Ecology
Joins F&ES Faculty

Yuan Yao, whose research examines the environmental and economic impacts of emerging technologies and industrial processes, has been named assistant professor of industrial ecology and sustainable systems at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), to be called the Yale School of the Environment beginning July 1.
yuan yao   1
NC State University
Yuan Yao
By integrating interdisciplinary approaches from the fields of industrial ecology and sustainable engineering, as well as data analytics and systems modeling, she has developed techniques that promote more sustainable engineering approaches and policies.
 
She joins Yale on July 1.
 
“Professor Yao is as versatile as a scholar/researcher gets,” said Marian Chertow, associate professor of industrial environmental management at F&ES and director of the F&ES-based Center for Industrial Ecology. “She is both intellectual and practical, has mastered advanced methods at a meaningful pace, and contributes to her community in unique ways.”

Yao comes to Yale from North Carolina State University, where she is currently an assistant professor of sustainability science and engineering.
 
After studying metallurgical engineering as a college undergraduate, Yao decided to focus on industrial sustainability after internships with a steel mill and an aluminum-producing plant in China, where she was shocked by the extent of pollution. “I started thinking about how as an engineer I could help make that situation better,” she says.
She is both intellectual and practical, has mastered advanced methods at a meaningful pace, and contributes to her community in unique ways.
— Marian Chertow, associate professor of industrial environmental management
It was at Northwestern University, where she earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering, that she first applied principles of industrial ecology, including life-cycle assessments, focusing on the tools to improve energy efficiency and reduce chemical pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of chemicals and fuels.
 
In her research now, Yao integrates advanced modeling methods from engineering, environmental science, natural science, and data science to quantify the environmental and economic implications of industrial technologies. Those implications can support decision making for efficient utilization of natural resources and sustainable production of materials and products. She has been leading collaborative projects related to biofuel and bio-based materials derived from forest resources, green chemistry technologies, and circular economy in different industrial sectors. Through those projects, Yao says, she has developed an active engagement with different universities, industry, government, and non-profits.
 
Last year, she received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) for research that uses artificial intelligence approaches to better predict potential uses and performance of biochar — a carbon-rich solid produced in the conversion of organic biomass — and strengthen the sustainability of its usage across the food-water-energy nexus.
 
“Traditionally, agriculture, water, and energy systems are managed independently,” she said. “If we want to achieve a more sustainable and efficient utilization of natural resources, we need to manage them simultaneously and use a nexus approach… Since biochar can be used in all of those threesystems, it presents a unique research area that can be very beneficial for the entire world.”
 
In addition to the research piece, the biochar project — which Yao will continue at Yale — will include online education and professional training opportunities for underrepresented students in order to introduce them to sustainability principles and STEM-related career fields. Yao has been dedicated to developing online educational materials to engage with diverse student populations and enhance the public literacy of sustainability.
Yale has a strong reputation in the field of industrial ecology, and so many excellent scholars. I really look forward to seeing how we can push the boundary of the field and help our area to grow.
— Yuan Yao
Yao says she is excited by the opportunities to work with scholars across many disciplines at Yale. And she is eager to join the Center for Industrial Ecology. “Yale has a strong reputation in the field of industrial ecology, and so many excellent scholars,” she said. “I really look forward to seeing how we can push the boundary of the field and help our area to grow.”
 
“We are very pleased to welcome Professor Yao to our community,” said F&ES Dean Indy Burke. “Between the depth and innovation of her research, her commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship, and her exhibited talent for teaching, she is clearly an emerging leader in her field who will strengthen our entire school.”
 
She will also fill an important role in strengthening the School’s industrial ecology curriculum, says Chertow.
 
“One of the best-known tools of industrial ecology is life cycle assessment,” Chertow said. “The Center for Industrial Ecology has been offering a course on LCA for about 10 years but never with a full-time faculty member. Professor Yao is an expert in this area, her students have raved about her LCA teaching, and she will be offering a new version of the course in the spring semester. 
 
“Indeed, now that industrial ecology has been taught for 25 years, Professor Yao is ready to push the methodological boundaries of this field in ways that will renew its possibilities for the future.”
– Kevin Dennehy    kevin.dennehy@yale.edu    203 436-4842
 
PUBLISHED: May 21, 2020
 
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles posted prior to July 1, 2020, refer to the School's name at that time.

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