Faculty Members Receive Grants to Identify Greener Solutions

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Senior Scientist Roger McFadden of Staples discussed market drivers for greener products at the TURI Greener Materials Research Symposium.

By Karen Angelo

Developing green solutions in industries that traditionally use toxic chemicals is vital to health and safety. To find alternatives to toxic products, it’s crucial that researchers understand the business needs of industry leaders. 

The Greener Materials Research Symposium, hosted recently by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell, brought together academic researchers and industry leaders to discuss business needs and the future of chemical usage in a greener world. 

“I am excited to have this direct connection to real-world problems affecting businesses in Massachusetts,” said Asst. Prof. Christopher Hansen of the department of mechanical engineering, who attended the symposium. “The representatives from these companies were passionate about finding greener and more sustainable products, but they were also able to articulate the business case that is needed to move forward for a real solution.” 

Symposium keynote speakers included Assistant Administrator Jim Jones of the Environmental Protection Agency and Senior Scientist Roger McFadden of Staples, who discussed the regulatory and market drivers for developing greener materials. Additional speakers included representatives from Massachusetts companies ITW Polymer Sealants, Raytheon, Savogran and Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics. Company leaders discussed developing alternatives to solvents in products such as contact adhesives, household paint stripping formulations and semiconductor cleaning solutions. 

UMass Lowell faculty, who received TURI Academic Research grants last year, presented project results. Assoc. Prof. Zhiyong Gu of Chemical Engineering developed a lead- and halogen-free nanosolder paste for use in next-generation electronics assembly. Assoc. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan in Plastics Engineering investigated safer plastics using food grade feed stocks to replace formaldehyde and phenol. Asst. Prof. Meg Sobkowicz-Kline of Plastics Engineering researched new synthesis mechanisms to create versatile latex coatings from renewable resources. Attendees were also introduced to research priorities for the next round of academic research funding from TURI. 

“The symposium sparked a lot of meaningful discussion of needs and challenges between UMass Lowell researchers and Massachusetts industry,” says Pam Eliason, TURI industry research program manager. “Our goal with both this symposium and our academic research grant program is to connect UMass Lowell faculty to real-world research needs, and to familiarize Massachusetts companies with UMass Lowell faculty and research capabilities to find innovative, greener solutions that meet their market needs.” 

Attendees toured UMass Lowell research facilities, including the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, the Printed Electronics Research Collaborative Laboratory, the Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s Cleaning Laboratory, the Materials Characterization Laboratory and more. 

TURI Awards Grants to Two Faculty Members 

In July, TURI awarded two new research grants for projects related to the industry needs discussed at the symposium. 

Assoc. Prof. Nagarajan will partner with Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics in Norwood to research safer alternative surfactants used in diagnostic laboratory testing products. Asst. Prof. Hansen will work with ITW Polymer Sealants in Rockland to research safer alternatives to solvents currently in use in the company’s contact adhesive products. 

In addition to these funded projects, the TURI Laboratory will work directly with Savogran in Norwood to research safer alternatives to methylene chloride used in household paint stripping formulations.