Associate Professor Justin Chalker looks at waste items through the prism of green chemistry to consider what valuable new materials they can become.
Transformations that he has performed in the Chalker Research Lab at Flinders University have been dramatic: a new class of rubber can be repurposed into incredibly strong building bricks; waste cooking oil becomes an absorbent polymer that can clean oil spills from ocean water. It signals a brave new era of environmentally friendly chemical application.
“This is the ambition of green chemistry, to make materials, molecules and compounds that are useful – and to make sure they are sustainable,” says Associate Professor Chalker, recipient of the Prize for New Innovators in the 2020 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science.
His idea is to establish new, valuable and generally recyclable rubber, plastics and ceramics. Too many materials are used once and then discarded, but Associate Professor Chalker believes functional alternative uses must be investigated by chemists.