Show #159 – Professor Veena Sahajwalla: Green Manufacturing & the Power of the Microfactory

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And onto this week’s show!

It all started when my SYD-LAX companion in June, Nigel and I were talking about the frustrating state of affairs in recycling tech (I know right? Hit the plane-buddy jackpot!) and he mentioned the hope that lay in the work a colleague of his was doing at the University of New South Wales. We were introduced and the rest is history. What a privilege to be able to bring you this hopeful conversation with Professor Veena Sahajwalla this week on the show. She is the woman behind the technology turning used rubber tyres into sheet steel, and used plastics into filament for 3D printing instead of what the majority of the industry is using – virgin plastics!

Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla FTSE HonFIEAust directs the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at UNSW Australia; delivering scientific and engineering advances in the sustainability of materials and associated processes in collaboration with industry. ARC Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla is revolutionising recycling science to enable global industries to safely utilise toxic and complex wastes as low-cost alternatives to virgin raw materials and fossil fuels. As Founding Director of UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology, Veena and her team are working closely with industry partners to deliver the new science, processes and technologies that will drive the redirection of many of the world’s most challenging waste streams away from landfills and back into production; simultaneously reducing costs to alleviating pressures on the environment. She is reimagining the global supply chain by demonstrating the viability of ‘mining’ our overburdened landfills to harness the wealth of useful elements like carbon, hydrogen, and materials like silica, titania, and metals embedded in our waste.

Enjoy discovering this incredible woman’s work. I can’t wait to go visit her research centre and bring you some video footage of what they’re doing.

 

 

The Framework for our Discussion:

I’d like to discuss her personal journey into the work she and her team now do; the current desperate need for innovation as we move into a renewable world where it’s not just energy that we should be focused on the renewables front but also grand-scale materials beyond sneakers and swimwear; her research in the area of repurposing waste / single use products into new materials able to be used for infrastructure/building etc; Endocrine disruptive considerations of new materials? Any testing done, ie something that was originally plastic turned to ‘steel’ – have the endocrine disruptive chemicals phthalates/BPA/BPS been removed along the way in the processing? ; her thoughts on how we can work harder as a collective grassroots to let leaders know these sorts of innovations are the ones we all want to see more of and anything she’s particularly passionate about discussing from the discoveries and innovations by her and her team.

  • Your personal journey into the work you and your team now do; as a scientist was it a personal passion for our planet that you could apply your innovative/scientific mind to, or as your studies unfolded you developed an awareness for the world’s challenges that led you to wanting to solve them? 
  • You’ve won a tonne of awards – many not only as a first female scientist to win those awards both here and in India – is there any award that was particularly thrilling to be awarded? One that’s dearest that you had dreamed of being awarded? 
  • There’s a desperate need for innovation where it’s not just energy that we should be focused on, on the renewables front but also grand-scale materials beyond sneakers and swimwear; 
  • Waste: What is currently going to landfill that has the potential to become something valuable and new? 
  • Let’s talk about recycling: Why is large scale recycling failing us? 
  • A lot of work you’ve done is in micro-recycling: Can you explain how it’s different and what the major benefits can be? 
  • What are some examples of recycling innovation to perhaps replace some of the need to drill into our earth?  (turning plastic into steel as Nigel talked about with me: Fascinating!) 
  • You’ve done a lot of research in the area of repurposing waste / single use products into new materials able to be used for infrastructure/building etc; In using plastics for infrastructure/buildings that people will be inside something I wonder about is: Are there endocrine disruptive considerations of these new materials from plastic origins? Any testing done, ie something that was originally plastic turned to ‘steel’ – have the endocrine disruptive chemicals phthalates/BPA/BPS been removed along the way in the processing?
  • How can we work harder as a collective grassroots to let leaders know these sorts of innovations are the ones we all want to see more of? It seems crazy that these innovations you’re working so hard on aren’t on the front page! 

 

Other helpful links:

To learn more about Professor Veena Sahajwalla: http://www.smart.unsw.edu.au/

Follow UNSW Science on Instagram @unswscience or Veena on Twitter

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Low Tox. Happy us. Happy planet

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