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Research Profile

Sethumadhavan Ravichandran, Team Leader

Fire fighters and soldiers in combat routinely face the potential for cancer and other disorders caused by chemically treated, flame retardant (FR) gear designed to keep them safe. But an interdisciplinary research team at UMass Lowell has designed and developed a novel, safer and “greener” flame retardant material that could help to eliminate the occupational health risks for our brave service men and women.

The flame retardant material is made of a renewable, non-toxic and plant-based waste product—cashew nut oil—obtained during cashew nut processing. The oil provides a starting material to produce a clean and green, non-halogenated FR polymer. This approach can replace toxic compounds that are currently used as flame retardants and have a profound impact on many people’s lives. And on the environment, as current flame retardant polymers release toxic gases on combustion into the atmosphere, threatening both air and water ecosystems.

For their innovative research, the team-comprised of polymer science graduate student Sethumadhavan Ravichandran, chemical engineering graduate student Ryan Bouldin, physics Prof. Jayant Kumar and plastics engineering Asst. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan-won the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award at the Student Design Competition for Sustainability in Washington, D.C. The team received $10,000 in Phase I of the competition and $75,000 in Phase II.

Ravichandran, the team leader, in part credits the University's strong collaborations and partnerships (particularly with TURI) for winning the award. "It was really essential for us to have this partnership, because the EPA saw this as a very favorable thing," he says. "That is also why we were able to win this award, and that could only have happened at UMass Lowell because they have a very active collaboration with TURI."

Funding for the research is through the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI), UMass Lowell’s Office of Commercial Ventures & Intellectual Property (CVIP), and the U.S. Army.

Photo (left to right): Prof. Jayant Kumar, Graduate student Sethumadhavan Ravichandran, Asst. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe pose during the EPA P3 award ceremony in Washington, D.C.