It’s a steel if you have shop­ping bags

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Research Round - Up - Sanna Trad

MORE than six years of re­search by a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of NSW has re­sulted in the cre­ation of a more ef­fi­cient steel­mak­ing process us­ing plas­tic pack­ag­ing that would oth­er­wise end up in land­fill.

Veena Sa­ha­jwalla, a pro­fes­sor in the school of ma­te­ri­als science and en­gi­neer­ing, has in­vented a method of ex­tract­ing car­bon from plas­tic pack­ag­ing to re­place 30 per cent of the coke and coal used to make steel. The process could save mil­lions of dol­lars and re­duce green­house gases.

But it’s the prospect

of

divert­ing

large amounts of plas­tic pack­ag­ing from land­fills that ex­cites Sa­ha­jwalla most about the tech­nol­ogy.

‘‘ It’s a win- win sit­u­a­tion, bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment and the com­pany,’’ she says.

‘‘ In mak­ing steel there’s es­sen­tially no dif­fer­ence be­tween the poly­eth­yl­ene plas­tic in shop­ping bags, soft pack­ag­ing and some drink con­tain­ers, and a nat­u­ral re­source like coal.’’

A deal signed be­tween NewSouth In­no­va­tions ( UNSW’s com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion arm) and OneS­teel will al­low for mil­lions of tonnes of plas­tic pack­ag­ing to be re­cy­cled to pro­duce steel. Sa­ha­jwalla hopes this is only the be­gin­ning and is work­ing on tech­nolo­gies that will make use of other ma­te­ri­als to re­place coke and coal.

‘‘ This is about sus­cep­ti­bil­ity as well as pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, this is def­i­nitely on­go­ing re­search.’’

OneS­teel has been spon­sor­ing Sa­ha­jwalla’s work and has ac­quired the rights to sub­li­cense the new tech­nol­ogy.

Sa­ha­jwalla is highly re­garded in the field of ma­te­ri­als en­gi­neer­ing. She has re­ceived sev­eral awards for her re­search as well as spon­sor­ship from na­tional and in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

She also ap­pears reg­u­larly as a judge on the ABC pro­gram .

Plas­tic fan­tas­tic: Veena Sa­ha­jwalla

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