It’s a steel if you have shopping bags
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
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 .