Margarita Calafell has developed a new material by applying a biotechnological treatment to paper sludge. The inventive researcher works at the Department of Chemical Engineering of the School of Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering of Terrassa (ETSEIAT) at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC).
Recycling paper to obtain more paper or cardboard has been a common process for many years. However, the production of a new, highly resistant, versatile and environmentally friendly material from the unwanted waste of this process is a completely new idea. This has been achieved by Margarita Calafell, a researcher at the UPC’s Terrassa Campus who runs the Enzyme Catalysis Laboratory of the UPC’s Engineering and Biotechnology (ENGIBIO) research group.
1 kg of paper, 1 kg of new material
This researcher has devised a new biotechnology method that she has used to modify the chemical and structural properties of the cellulose materials that are left over from the paper recycling process. Thus, she has created a new compact, mouldable, fire resistant, impermeable, strong, porous material that could, in many cases, replace materials that are not environmentally friendly or that are more expensive, such as plastics, wood derivatives or rubber. This is achieved in the most productive way possible, as each kilogram of paper produces a kilogram of the new material, which has numerous applications in various industry and production sectors.
Substitute for plasterboard and expanded polystyrene
Because the new material is strong, insulating, impermeable and low density, it can replace plasterboard and many other materials used in construction, such as partition walls, soundproofing boards or false ceilings. The material’s mouldability means that it can be used to manufacture all kinds of packaging products and could replace expanded polystyrene or other petroleum-derived products.
Highly versatile method
The new material has been patented by Calafell, with a UPC patent. The innovativeness of the new material is a result of the great versatility of the new method. The researcher stated that this technique can be used to modify the properties of all kinds of residues from cellulose materials (paper), polymeric material (plastics), and even rubber from tyres. However, Margarita Calafell insisted that the product of the new technique is not a kind of agglomerate, but a new material with unique, uniform properties that has yet to be named.
Ideas for marketing the new material
Margarita Calafell has begun to market the new material in various ways, such as the creation within the UPC of a spin-off company, the search for investors to manufacture it on a large scale and the development of a joint project with the UPC’s Materials and Structures Laboratory of Innovation Technology (LITEM)—another research group on the Terrassa Campus—that will involve the construction of a pilot plant with which to begin production.
Margarita Calafell’s research project has been selected from the 170 projects submitted to the 9th Business Ideas Competition for the Acció 10 programme of the Catalan government (Generalitat de Catalunya). It has also been selected from 37 projects in the BioEmprenedor XXI competition, promoted by Genoma España.
Source: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), press release, 2009-07-02.