How can falling trees improve sustainability?

By turning waste products into plastics.

It might not seem logical, this goal of simultaneously helping the environment and helping a soldier. It might seem futuristic to, in effect, fashion a tree into a helmet for a warrior, a spice into a coating for a tank. It might seem impossible to turn a low-grade byproduct into something not just usable but important, even valuable.

Dr. Joseph Stanzione, in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Rowan University, believes this all is possible. He is part of a team working under United States Department of Defense grants to take wood waste from the paper and pulp industry and develop it into the next generation of plastics for items such as helmets, water canisters, firearms and parts for military vehicles.

The paper and pulp industry produces about 50 metric tons of lignin a year, the majority of which is considered an intractable nuisance. About two percent of it is used for applications, such as serving as binders in animal feed or elements in lumber products, concrete and cement. The rest is burned for energy recovery or thrown away.

But Stanzione believes that transforming that waste into plastics is both possible and beneficial – it will lessen the drain on fossil fuels that we use now to make plastics; it will open the door for the synthesis of the next generation of nature-inspired materials derived from readily available natural resources; and it will provide an additional option to recycling plastics for high-performance composites, coatings, and adhesives.

In related research, he and fellow engineers are working to make better and safer polymers and resins out of renewable resources such as tree components, agricultural waste, herbs and spices for improved energy devices, multi-functional polymers and novel medical treatments.

Successful outcomes will address the United States’ goal to be less foreign-fuel dependent and help the environment, while providing innovative solutions through creative engineering.

Contact Us: For more information about any of these initiatives, please contact:
Dr. Joe Cardona, cardona@rowan.edu, 856-256-4236.