Purdue professor leads team winning R and D 100 award

November 19, 2015  

Vilas Pol

Vilas Pol

(Purdue University photo)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University researcher led a team that won a 2015 R&D 100 award for developing a process to manufacture “carbon microspheres” from waste plastics.

The microspheres are an environmentally friendly product with various potential applications including battery electrodes and oil additives, said Vilas G. Pol, an associate professor in the School of Chemical Engineering and the School of Materials Engineering.

“The manufacturing process destroys unwanted plastic waste in an environmentally responsible manner,” he said.

The R&D 100 awards have been called the "Oscars of invention." The 2015 recipients were honored during a ceremony on Nov. 13. The innovation was selected as “one of the most technologically significant new products of the year” in the mechanical devices/materials category.

The work was led by Pol, a former materials scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, where he developed the process in work with Argonne Distinguished Fellows Ali Erdemir and Michael M. Thackeray and Kuldeep Mistry, principal product development engineer at The Timken Co. and former Argonne postdoctoral researcher.

The process takes place inside an “autogenic reactor” where plastics are heated to about 700 degrees Celsius (about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit), melting, and then “pyrolyzing” into hydrogen and the carbon microspheres.

“You can take any unsorted plastic wastes and put them together in the reactor,” Pol said. “Usually for recycling you have to separate the different plastics because they are chemically different and do not want to mix. But here we go beyond recycling and we break down the bonds.”

Once the reactor reaches the proper temperature the pyrolysis takes only about one minute.

The microspheres also could find uses in inks, printer toners and high-performance composites, ceramics, and polymers. Their size of 2-5 micrometers and their high density make them potentially practical for various applications. 

Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu 

Source: Vilas G. Pol, 765-494-0044, vpol@purdue.edu 

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