Last week, Ram Gupta, PSU associate professor of polymer chemistry, received a grant of $100,000 for research aimed at recycling polymers and plastics. Gupta will lead a team of eight to 10 graduate and undergraduate students in an effort to see if they can recycle some components of common plastics and polymers in batteries and supercapacitors.
“Our main focus is plastic polymers and household waste materials have different kinds of materials inside, so we’re trying to use some of the plastics or polymers to do the recycling and do some chemical process, so we can do some materials for batteries and supercapacitors,” Gupta said.
The grant comes from a group of companies focused on recycling, who formed a recycling council. Gupta caught their interest at a conference where he was presenting research. Gupta then submitted a written proposal for the grant including all the details and application of the project.
As a plastics professor, Gupta said it has always been on his mind “that we have to do something” and bring students into the topic of recycling.
“Here, our idea is to engage graduate and undergraduate students in this opportunity as well, so they understand the value of sustainability and a brighter future,” Gupta said.
The grant is for one year and will fund the first phase of the project.
“There are lots of plastic and polymers, and different categories of them,” Gupta said. “Our aim is to see or develop a universal process, see if all material can be treated the same way and if it can work. The concept is simple, but it is a very much value-added process. So, the first phase is to validate the concept… and we will be seeing if these materials can be used or not in the battery application.”
If the first phase is successful, and the team is able to validate their idea of creating battery parts from recycled plastic and polymers, then Gupta believes there is a high chance of receiving funding for the second phase.
“If they can test and validate the concept,” he said. “Phase two would be to actually collect the materials and make the batteries and supercapacitors.”
Tenzin Ingsel, graduate student in material science, is one student that will be involved in the research project. Ingsel says she is excited to be a part of such an important research project.
“It’s exciting and I think we can make it possible and make (PSU) proud,” she said. “It’s interesting because it is part of how in material science and polymer chemistry, we need to be responsible about how we synthesize materials, so one part is being able to recycle materials.”
According to Gupta, the grant money will go towards supporting the scientists and students, procuring various necessary chemicals, and for small lab equipment needed to accomplish the goals of the project.
The research will take place at the Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC) located in Pittsburg.
Grants like this are necessary for the running of the KPRC. Tim Dawsey, executive director for the Advancement of Applied Science & Technology and director of the KPRC, says the grants are what the facility “live off”.
“We operate off of research funding,” he said. “So those external grants are critical for our operations.”
Dawsey believes that receiving the grant brings attention to the important projects that PSU is involved in.
“This brings attention to the fact that right here in South East Kansas and in the Four State region, we’ve got a facility that is quite capable of doing some top-level research on what can be done to use and reuse these materials,” he said.
Gupta also believes that receiving the grant will shed light on the important role his team will have on such a “hot topic”.
“This will increase the visibility of Pittsburg State, we are not just a university, but we want to do good for society,” he said. “We make plastics and polymers, but we are also trying to be conscious and recycle them.”