March 13, 2017 10:45AM
That orange peel you tossed in the trash after breakfast, this morning, could one day be part of the solution for creating environmentally friendly products that insulate our homes and protect us from the elements.
Charith Ranaweera, a graduate student in Pittsburg State University’s polymer chemistry program, has recently been recognized for his research on flame resistant polyurethane foams that are based on limonene, an extract from waste orange peels.
“Currently, the starting chemicals for polyurethane and many other polymers are obtained from petrochemicals and therefore are not renewable,” said Ram Gupta, an assistant professor in PSU’s Department of Chemistry. “In addition, one of the main limitations of polyurethane foams is their low flame retardancy.”
In his research, Ranaweera attacked both of those issues. He began by using the limonene to synthesize a bio-polyol that could be substituted for the petrochemicals normally used to produce polyurethane. To increase the fire retardant properties of the product, he incorporated a compound that contained phosphorous.
“We showed that polyurethane foam prepared from our bio-polyol can be used for thermal insulation and packaging with the additional benefit of fire safety,” Ranaweera said.
For his research, Ranaweera was recognized by the Thermoset Resin Formulators Association with the Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award, which recognizes advances in science, engineering and technology relating to thermosetting polymers. Those products are used in a wide variety of daily applications, including structural adhesives, sealants, coatings, composites, insulation and packaging. The award is open to all BS, MS and Ph.D. students at accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada.
“Recognition at this level is an outstanding achievement for any student,” Gupta said, “and it shows that our polymer program is highly competitive with some of the best programs in North America.”
Ranaweera’s paper, “Bio-based Polyols using Thiol-Ene Chemistry for Rigid Polyurethane Foams with Enhanced Flame Retardant Properties,” will appear in the Journal of Renewable Materials.
This isn’t the first recognition for Ranaweera, who came to PSU from his home in Sri Lanka because of the university’s polymer chemistry degree programs. In the 18 months Ranaweera has been at PSU, he has published seven peer-reviewed journal articles and presented his work in more than 10 national and regional conferences.
Ranaweera gives high praise to Gupta for the way he mentors the student researchers in the polymer chemistry program and guides their research.
“He’s like a father to us,” Ranaweera said. “He guides us and gives us instruction every step of the way.”
Gupta, who came to PSU as part of its Polymer Chemistry Initiative, said he enjoys working with undergraduate and graduate students as they do their research.
“I enjoy teaching and nurturing them,” Gupta said, “and the students get the advantage of doing this research at the Kansas Polymer Research Center, which is a world leader for bio-based research.”
Ranaweera said he hopes to go on from his experience at PSU to earn a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry and eventually to have a career in industry research.
For more information on Polymer Chemistry Initiative at PSU, visit