Liao receives 2024 CANR Distinguished Faculty Award

Wei Liao, Ph.D., will receive the 2024 CANR Distinguished Faculty Award during the annual ANR Awards on Friday, March 1.

Wei Liao headshot

Wei Liao, Ph.D., of Okemos, Michigan, will receive a Michigan State University (MSU) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Distinguished Faculty Award at the March 1 ANR Awards Program.

Globally recognized as a leading biosystems researcher, Liao is a professor in the Department of Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering (BAE) at MSU. Liao started his career at MSU in 2007 after earning his Ph.D. in Biological Systems Engineering from Washington State University in 2005. Liao’s research focuses on the integration of solar, biological and nano technologies for waste treatment and value-added fuels/chemical production. He also works on algal cultivation to reclaim water and generate value-added products, as well as innovative anaerobic cultivation systems to convert organic residues to renewable energy and other bioproducts.

For the last 10 years, Liao has led a team of 18 colleagues as director of the Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center (ADREC) and the south campus digester, developing new cross-disciplinary initiatives on wastes-to-resource research and elevating MSU’s place as a global leader in this important sustainability research space. Liao’s work has been integrated into groundbreaking, farm-based biorefining applications. He has developed a novel, system-based concept to create a carbon-neutral, zero-discharging and value-added system that leads to a win-win-win solution for the rural community, the environment and the bioeconomy.

Since joining the BAE department in 2007, Liao has established an internationally recognized research program, receiving over $10 million in external funding from a wide variety of sources, including competitive federal grant programs, state agencies and private industry. He has authored or co-authored over 90 peer-reviewed journal articles, with over 200 publications, papers or presentations at national and international meetings.

Liao’s work has uniquely empowered MSU’s status as a leader in global sustainable agricultural development and innovation. He has established pilot facilities and conducted pilot-scale research in the U.S. and overseas, including the MSU anaerobic digestion/algal cultivation system, the container-based solar-bio-nano wastewater utilization system, the pilot-scale photobioreactor system at the MSU power plant and the pilot solar-biopower system in Costa Rica.

His advocacy and expertise with legislative stakeholders played a key role in garnering over $53 million in state funding to partially cover the cost of a new, state-of-the-art Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center. This facility will allow MSU to build an evidence-based roadmap for environmentally sustainable dairy production in Michigan. As social and climate shifts drive more of the dairy industry to the upper Midwest, this investment in sustainable dairy research will ensure Michigan is prepared for the future. Liao’s integral role in this effort will impact the dairy industry in the state for years to come.

His outreach and scholarship has had a global impact. Liao established a pilot anaerobic digestion system at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) to carry out research and education activities in the region as a part of a $1 million grant from the Department of State. He developed a bioenergy solution for Southern Italy, working with a group of Italian researchers to establish models to estimate potential bioenergy production for Sicily, led an international team to develop integrated thermal and biological solutions of crop residues utilization to address the smog problem in Beijing, China and Facilitated establishment of the MSU-Nanjing Agricultural University (NAU) dual degree program.

Throughout his career, Liao has received various awards and recognitions, including: the MSU CANR Camden Endowed Teacher/Scholar Award (2020), the MSU College of Engineering Withrow Global Leadership Award (2019) and was a member of a team that received the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) Partnership Award for Innovative Program Models. He has also served on the editorial boards of several important academic publications, such as the Journal of Biotechnology for Biofuels, the Journal Biomass and Bioenergy, the Journal of Bioresources and Bioprocessing and the Journal of Industrial Biotechnology.

In addition to his extensive research and service activities, Liao is a dedicated educator, teaching six different undergraduate and graduate courses in the past 15 years. He has developed several new courses at both undergraduate and graduate levels for different programs, including a graduate-level environmental course for the MSU Environmental Science and Policy Program (ESPP), a graduate-level seminar and two undergraduate-level courses related to microbial systems engineering and biomass conversion engineering.


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