Taking charge

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The International Conference on Advances in Polymer Science and Rubber Technology (APSRT) at IIT Kharagpur, organized by the Rubber Technology Centre from September 24-27, discussed what should be the future agenda for the world threatened by Climate Change. Plastics naturally figured prominently in the conference that mulled over how polymer science and the rubber industry had to focus intensively on driving innovation within the broad sustainability framework through waste prevention, re-use, repair, remanufacture and recycling. Prof. Thomas Kurian of the Cochin University of Science and Technology, for example, explained chemical recycling of PET bottles by a route based in aminolysis.

Prof. Tony McNally of WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) inaugurating the APSRT conference

The conference not only brought together distinguished scientists, faculty members and technologists from the academia and industry the world over, but also students from various parts of the country. Among them were two from the Guru Nanak Institute of Pharmaceutical Science and Technology. Both took part in the poster exhibition at the conference.

At a time when the entire world is debating over how to get rid of plastics, the poster of Amandeep Kaur, one of the students, proclaimed, “Plastic is a unique and valuable material with many beneficial functions – it’s affordable, lightweight, transparent, flexible, durable and resistant to water.”

Her poster, however, did not deny the devastation plastics were causing. “Synthetic plastic is polluting our lands, oceans, and have negative impact on wildlife and human health as well” – Amandeep’s poster said.

The answer? Bioplastic, which is a biodegradable type of polymer. Both the postgraduate students – Amandeep Kaur and Suparna Ghosh – have been working in this field since their graduation. “The downside of traditional plastic is its production from non-renewable and fossil sources of petrochemicals such as Polystyrene, Polyvinyl chloride, nylon and Polyethylene,” explained Amandeep. But bioplastics are made from vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, straw, woodchips, sawdust, recycled food waste, etc, and are therefore biodegradable.

Suparna and Amandeep (right) at the conference

Amandeep has been working on the production of bioplastic from starch extracted from jackfruit and date seeds. She has used additives such as Chitosan, a naturally occurring linear polysaccharide compound, as an amplifier, as well as other additives to increase the transparency and plasticity property of her product.

At the conference she mainly attended the biochemistry sessions. An excited Amandeep said, “I got many new ideas which I can incorporate in my further studies. I have used starch as my basic component, but there is also cellulose I realized. Again, I have used Chitosan as an amplifier, but I learnt that I can also try resilin, which could be more effective and beneficial.”

Her friend from the same institute, Suparna Ghosh, has been working on bioplastics as well. Her poster demonstrated a simple format of producing bioplastic from potatoes, i.e. starch. The poster said, “To produce PLA (polylactic acid) from gelatinized potato with the help of lactic acid bacteria. To produce PSP from potato starch without any microbial culture”.

“Bioplastics have an extensive range of applications in the field of nanotechnology and membrane applications such as wound covering and in the sector of sanitary items and cosmetics. They can also be used in biomedical field for implants, tissue engineering, dermatological treatments and drug delivery,” said Amandeep.

The two students, who were visiting IIT Kharagpur for the first time, were thankful for the exposure the APSRT conference had given them. “The campus is beautiful and I thank the organizers for the exposure to new research that is going on, all of which are going to help us tremendously,” said Suparna. IIT Kharagpur has also been working on the recycling of polymers in order to produce oil and value added products.

At a time Greta Thunberg was creating a storm at the United Nations General Assembly with her speech, condemning world leaders for betraying the young, for failing to live up to their responsibility, it felt great to meet these two young girls from Kolkata. They were taking charge of their own future, and that of the world, with their scientific innovation. That is the spirit IIT Kharapgur inculcates in its students. That is the spirit it stands by.

Graphics : Suman Sutradhar

By Chirosree Basu

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