The earth is an indispensable resource.
We rely on it for food, clothing - in fact for the very life that we can all too easily take for granted.
Sadly because of pollution we have been slowly destroying our planet.
A major contributor to that pollution is non-biodegradable plastic, the detrimental impact of which is compounded because its manufacture uses so much of another finite resource, petroleum.
But all is not lost.
Recently, significant efforts have been made by the Polymers Research Group that is based in Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus to create sustainable alternatives to plastic that are both biodegradable and use renewable resources.
Talented young early career researcher Nishar Hameed and his supervisor Professor Qipeng Guo have made considerable progress towards developing novel, natural polymer blended materials via what they are calling the “green processing route”.
“We have developed novel biodegradable polymeric materials by taking advantage of the ionic liquid green solvent concept,” Nishar said.
“We use natural polymers such as cellulose, wool, chitin and their derivatives because they are all renewable, biodegradable, and biocompatible.”
These make use of the substantial stock of sustainable materials that exist in Australia, such as cellulose from plants (agriculture and forestry), the huge resource of chitin raw materials from crab, prawns and shrimp shells (fishing industry) and the development of materials from wool keratin (wool industry).
One material the Deakin researchers have created blends natural cellulose and Australian Merino wool, two key natural raw materials from a renewable bio-resource.
“The types of products currently made or planned from cellulose, chitin, chitosan and wool are expected to cover a broad range of industries and areas of research in which there is considerable interest in Australia and internationally, including automotive and aerospace, biomedical and electronics,” Nishar said.
“At the moment most of these natural polymers are processed using large quantities of organic or hydrocarbon solvents that are toxic.
“The harmful effects of these solvents and the often hazardous by-products on human health and the environment, combined with their volatility and flammability, have led to increasing pressure to minimise their use.
“Since all these materials used in our study are biodegradable, it is expected we will be able to greatly reduce the pollution from the plastics industry.
“Moreover, the green solvent we are using is environment-friendly and recyclable.
“It has no volatile organic carbon (VOC) emissions unlike other conventional solvents and hence no adverse impacts on the health of workers.”
Nishar was recently honoured by the Smart Geelong Network, winning the Researcher of the Year – Early Researcher Award 2010.
He was presented with his award by the head of Deakin’s Institute for Technology Research and Innovation, Professor Peter Hodgson.
“Nishar has put together a very solid body of research in a very short time,” Professor Hodgson said.
“He was certainly deserving of this award.”