PhD student awarded prestigious fellowship for his vital research

Goutham RangarajanGoutham Rangarajan, a ChemE PhD student, has been awarded the prestigious Climate Positive Energy Rising Stars Sustainability Postdoctoral Fellowship for his groundbreaking project, Catalytic Depolymerization of Polystyrene Waste into Valuable Phenolic Products using Visible-light Driven Photocatalysis and Green Solvents. This innovative research aims to revolutionize waste management practices and contribute to the global sustainability objectives.

His research addresses the pressing environmental challenge of plastic waste management, specifically focusing on polystyrene waste. Polystyrene, a significant contributor to plastic waste, poses a considerable threat due to its chemical stability and limited recycling options. The innovative approach of utilizing visible-light active photocatalysts and green solvents enables the deconstruction of polystyrene waste into valuable phenolic products.

What sets this research apart is its multidisciplinary nature and innovative methodology. By harnessing visible-light active CdS nanomaterials, Goutham and team are able to unlock the breakdown of polystyrene using renewable energy sources, marking a paradigm shift from conventional methods. Moreover, the use of green, bio-derived solvents enhances the overall sustainability of the process.

The project, led by Goutham, brings together a diverse and talented group of individuals, including his supervisor, Professor Ramin Farnood (Chair of ChemE) who is renowned for his expertise in sustainable energy research. The collaboration also involves the invaluable contributions of Professors Tim Bender (ChemE) and Chandra Veer Singh (MSE), who provided crucial insights from their backgrounds in catalysis and materials science. Additionally, PhD student Rohit Pal, a colleague at the lab, played an important role in proposal development, research processes, and data collection.

While the Climate Positive Energy (CPE) initiative supports this project through the $50,000 one-year fellowship, the team aims to secure additional funding from organizations such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Furthermore, they plan to explore partnerships with industrial stakeholders who share a common interest in sustainable energy and manufacturing. These collaborations will not only provide financial support but also foster knowledge exchange and facilitate the practical implementation of their significant research findings.

The societal impact of their project is expected to be far-reaching. By providing a sustainable and economically viable pathway to divert polystyrene waste from landfills and the environment, the research contributes to the circular economy and reduces reliance on finite resources. Transforming waste into valuable phenolic products promotes a sustainable approach to the pervasive plastic waste management problem, while also addressing environmental justice concerns faced by communities disproportionately affected by plastic waste pollution.

“Cities like Toronto, known for generating substantial amounts of polystyrene waste, stand to benefit greatly from the outcomes of this project. In a 2019 news article, CBC reported that a significant portion of polystyrene waste in Canada ended up in landfills, highlighting the urgent need for effective waste management solutions. By sharing our findings with policymakers, waste management organizations, and industry stakeholders, we aim to foster widespread adoption of polymer upcycling,” explains Goutham.

Although the project is currently in the proof-of-concept stage based on literature analysis, Goutham plans to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals once his postdoctoral fellowship commences this fall. This will ensure the dissemination of their research to the scientific community and promote further advancements in the field.

By receiving the Climate Positive Energy Rising Stars Sustainability Postdoctoral Fellowship, Goutham Rangarajan is poised to make significant contributions to the field of sustainable energy, waste management, and the global energy transition towards achieving net-zero 2050 goals.