Eastman Chemical Co. and the University of Tennessee dedicated the Eastman Innovation Center on the UT campus in Knoxville Aug. 25, a program that officials with both organizations say could have far-reaching economic and environmental impacts.
"Connecting our faculty experts with industry leaders, supplying them with the resources and the collaborative environment they need to solve pressing global problems is what a modern land-grant university is meant to do," UT Chancellor Donde Plowman said. "The discoveries made through this partnership with Eastman will positively impact communities across the U.S. and world."
Eastman executives Steve Crawford and Chris Killian attended the event. "Our two institutions have decades of shared history," said Crawford, executive vice president of technology and chief sustainability officer for Kingsport, Tenn.-based Eastman. "Today is a significant new chapter in that history."
Eastman's center is in the UT Business Incubator, which provides a central location for technology firms to collaborate with UT on research and economic development projects that can benefit Tennessee.
The center expands an existing research relationship. The university has been a member of the Eastman Innovation Network of higher education partners since 2015. Eastman will maintain a consistent campus presence, with scientists rotating through its Knoxville space to focus on research proposals from UT research teams of faculty and students.
UT and Eastman extended a master research agreement that continues the research partnership through 2026. Eastman has committed at least $1 million for funded research. Killian said that because UT works in areas strategic to Eastman, it's likely that Eastman will exceed the $1 million in research funding by that time.
"We're excited for the possibilities of the innovation center because UT's well-known expertise in fields like neutron science and additive manufacturing," he added. "We're already seeing potential innovation in our window films, Eastman Tritan copolyester, cellulose esters, and Eastman Tetrashield for can coatings."
Officials also have expanded discussions of overlapping sustainability initiatives and goals.
"We see abundant opportunities — especially on climate and material circularity — where we can work together to make a meaningful impact," UT's Crawford said.
UT and Eastman collaborated on a recycling project in 2021 to show how plastic collected at UT football games can be processed by Eastman's molecular recycling technologies and made into reusable water bottles. The project will continue at Neyland Stadium in 2022. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of "Good Sports Always Give Back," a UT recycling program of which Eastman is a founding partner.
Eastman is a supplier of specialty materials, including Tritan-brand copolyester. The firm employs 14,000 worldwide and posted sales of $10.5 billion in 2021.