- Create sustainable packaging materials with a minimal environmental footprint,
- Strive for zero-plastic waste, and
- Develop a creative and uniquely skilled workforce that is ready to advance sustainable packaging science and manufacturing.
The packaging sector alone consumes 40% of the plastic and is the leading plastic waste contributor. Approximately 80 billion pounds of plastics per year are used in the US alone, and only 8.5% of these materials are recycled. This massive amount of plastic waste that enters landfills/environment is threatening our soil, water, air, and potentially the safety of our entire food chain. Similarly, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and plastic-coated paper used in packaging have adverse environmental impacts. Thus, developing technically feasible and environmentally responsible solutions has become a top priority for academia and industry.
FOCUSED RESEARCH AREAS:
A) Creating End-of-Life Solutions for Plastic Waste:
Plastics have radically transformed our world and are widely used in numerous applications ranging from packaging to medical supplies, which include disposable items and durable goods. Unfortunately, only a small portion of plastics produced is recycled, while the rest is sent to landfills, incinerated, or littered to the environment. Our research is focused on End of Life (EoL) solutions for plastic waste and is comprised of mechanical and chemical recycling.
B) Design for Recycling:
Most commercial polymers used today are not designed with EoL scenarios in mind. We are working on simple design and tailored materials for packagings’ that are easy to recycle.
C) Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-free Paper Coating as an alternative to single-use plastics:
Single-use plastic packages and PFAS-coated paper substrates fulfill critical roles in the packaging sector. But due to their environmental concerns, the European Union has already voted to ban single-use plastics plates and straws by 2021. Additionally, persistent and environmentally harmful PFAS chemicals are often used to render paper substrates water- and oil-resistant. My team is striving to develop solutions that address these shortcomings by creating plastic- and PFAS-free sustainable paper.
D) Multi-Functional Coatings:
Our efforts in this area can be broadly categorized into three categories.
We have developed a coating suitable for drums and food cans that can reduce waste (food and chemicals) by enabling clean and efficient removal of the products from these containers. This approach can also be translated to coating vaccine packages to reduce their losses during dispensing. Similarly, omniphobic self-cleaning glass coatings have been developed for automotive and building windows, and so on. Further advancements in fundamental science are being explored towards the long-term stable performance of these omniphobic surfaces for automotive and building applications.
Anti-dirt coatings are useful for applications such as sensors, solar panels, and buildings. One common challenge encountered with solar panels is a dramatic decrease in their power generation efficiency due to dirt accumulation. Frequent cleanings are required to regain the performance, but that adds to maintenance costs. We have developed dirt-rejecting coatings for solar panels to overcome these issues. Further studies to improve their long-term performance are underway in collaboration with industry partners.
We are exploring self-healing materials for multiple applications such as resealable packages as well as other high-performance coatings.