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USM produces new composite from polystyrene

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) is among the organizations finding ways not to use polystyrene any more such as through the ‘White Coffin’ Campaign where polystyrene containers are no longer used as food containers in the university.

Polystyrene is regarded as one of the materials that is hazardous to the environment as it needs more than 100 years to degrade into the ground. In fact, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) is among the organizations finding ways not to use the material any more such as through the ‘White Coffin’ Campaign where polystyrene containers are no longer used as food containers in the university.

Meanwhile efforts have been intensified to produce new degradable materials as alternatives to polystyrene and also to find new uses for polystyrene. Dr. Issam Ahmed Mohammed, from the School of Industrial Technology is one of those who have been researching new uses for polystyrene.

According to Dr. Issam, many countries, including America and Japan have taken efforts to overcome the problem of polystyrene disposal but it is believed that this is the first time that polystyrene is being used in a novel way to benefit society.

In the United States of America, the huge amount of polystyrene is compacted to prevent pollution and to ensure that they are not disposed of haphazardly. In Japan, on the other hand, efforts are being taken to produce polystyrene that is easily degradable.

“In USM, we have started efforts to make polystyrene beneficial to society. By adding a solvent and a chemical to turn it into glue, it has the capacity to combine with empty oil palm fruit bunches to make fibres for the furniture industry,”explained Dr. Issam at a media conference here, today.

He said that although polystyrene appears soft, it becomes very strong when combined with “coumarone-indene” as a tackfier and “toulene” as a solvent. In this way a new material is produced, one with a specific composition and proven to be strong enough to be used on wood or plastic.

“The strength of the glue has been proven through relevant tests. When the composition of the polystyrene is increased, it will further increase the strength of the glue,” said Dr. Issam.

Polystyrene is well-known for its many uses such as food containers and also for its insulation properties in electrical and electronic equipment. However, its adverse impact on the environment is equally well-known. Polystyrene containers are simply thrown away and ultimately they affect the quality of the environment.

The innovation won the Gold medal in the Malaysian Technology Expo held in Kuala Lumpur last week.

The research was funded by allocations from several other research projects and took almost a year to complete. Postgraduate student, Putri Nur Syazwani Azizizan and Assoc. Prof. Abdul Khalil Shawkataly were also involved in research.

“The new product was produced at a lower cost, believed to be 20% cheaper than the products that are currently available in the market,” explained Dr. Issam.

This material can then be used together with the empty oil palm fruit bunches to produce a new composite for the furniture industry.

This new discovery will ensure that discarded polystyrene will be utilised to produce a new material that can be used in the future,” said Dr. Issam.

Meanwhile, Acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ahmad Shukri Mustapa Kamal who was also present at the press conference said this was an excellent effort in putting discarded materials to good use.

“This is in line with USM’s efforts and we hope that research efforts into discovering new innovations will continue to be carried out,” added Prof. Ahmad Shukri.

Also present at the press conference was the Deputy Dean of the School of Industrial Technology, Assoc. Prof. Azhar Mohd. Easa.

Mohamad Abdullah | Research asia research news
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