Something plastic, something new, is always cooking in Marinos Xanthos’ first floor polymer engineering laboratory at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Xanthos, a chemical engineering professor who has directed since 1988 the Polymer Processing Institute at NJIT, is best known for developing energy efficient manufacturing methods with low environmental impact.
His past research has included finding chemical formulas to enable manufacturers to recycle soda bottles into Styrofoam-like building insulation. More recently, the long-time Fort Lee resident has worked on finding environmentally friendlier ways to coat automobiles with resin. His newest project focuses on finding pollutants in liquids.
Clearly reflective of his professional stature, Xanthos was named a Fellow of the Society of Plastics Engineers in 2003. Although the society has more than 25,000 members, only 210 have been elected to this status.
To celebrate the work of this important scientist, NJIT President Robert A. Altenkirch will present Xanthos with the Harlan J. Perliss Award for Research at NJIT’s Fall Awards Ceremony October 8, 2003, at 3 p.m.
(Attention Editors: To attend the event and/or interview Xanthos, contact Sheryl Weinstein, 973-596-3436.)
Few scientific fields have changed modern life as much as chemical engineering. For example, in 1942, four chemical engineers at the former Standard Oil Company, of Linden, (now ExxonMobil) invented a process called fluid catalytic cracking. Hailed as one of the last century’s greatest inventions, this breakthrough transformed crude oil into high-octane gasoline. Historians say the invention was instrumental for the Allies’ air victories in World War II. They also credit it with ushering in the age of the automobile and the development of products from plastics to fabrics.
It is in this robust tradition of scholarly inquiry that Xanthos works.
In 1992, Hanser Publishers (Munich, New York) published Xanthos’ groundbreaking book, Reactive Extrusion: rinciples and Practice. The text, which remains a best seller among industrial chemical engineers, illustrates new and better ways to modify plastics, especially polyesters, used in soda bottles. “You can’t immediately take plastic from a soda bottle,” Xanthos said. “You must do some chemical modifications and it is those modifications that my research uncovered.”
More recently, Xanthos has sought a better and safer way to coat vehicles with a resin. The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded this project a $100,000 preliminary research grant. Xanthos expects the funding to be extended for an additional $600,000 over three years He recently presented part of his research to an audience of fellow chemists at the last bi-annual meeting of the American Chemcial Society.
“All cars must have this top coating, because it enables them to withstand weather and scratches,” Xanthos explained. The problem is that the process of making and applying the top coating is time-consuming and costly for industry. It also presents health risks for workers. “Scientists know that the higher the temperature, the more likely the process will throw off volatile by-products,” he said. “At high temperatures, the volatiles evaporate and, once evaporated, may be inhaled.”
Xanthos’ current research aims to make the process less hazardous and more cost effective by reducing temperatures at least 50 percent from 180 to 120 degrees Celsius, while also reducing baking time from 30 to 10 minutes. “Not only do we see this research enabling car manufacturers to operate their assembly line faster, thus increasing production, but we also expect our research to reduce energy costs and present fewer toxic fumes,” he said.
In addition, since the consistency of the powder coatings won’t change, Xanthos noted that the new coatings should be as strong and as good as the old ones.
Xanthos newest project with Kam Sirkar, Ph.D., distinguished professor of chemical engineering at NJIT, will explore for the next three years nanoporous polymeric membranes. NSF has funded the project with a $339,988 grant. Such membranes, which chemical engineers also refer to as films, are made from petroleum or oil. The research of the two men will focus on finding ways to create extraordinarily tiny pores in thin polymer (or plastic) films (or membranes).
Chemical engineers want to manufacture these membranes because they need to separate pollutants, gases, biological molecules and other substances from contaminated, polluted liquids, thus allowing the liquids to be reused. “The liquids may be water, organic solvents, oil, or even water that contains different biological proteins,” Xanthos said. “At the end of the day, we hope that this research will be of use to the bio-technology and pharmaceutical industry, which needs this information to produce purer products.”
Xanthos received his doctoral and master’s degrees from the department of chemical engineering and applied chemistry at University of Toronto. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Thessaloniki, Greece.
Xanthos holds three U.S. and two Canadian patents and has been a regular technical consultant since 1987 to companies such as Elf-Atochem (France), Exxonmobil, Shell Chemicals, Dow Corning, AT&T, and Cytec. He has recently written about the recycling of soda bottles with NJIT doctoral student Rahul Dhavalikar: “Parameters Affecting PET Modification in the Melt with Epoxides,” Journal of Applied Polymer Science, 87, 4, 643 (2003). He has also written about environmental energy and recycling with NJIT Research Fellow S. H. Patel: “Environmental Issues in Polymer Processing – A Review of Volatile missions and Materials/Energy Recovery Options,” Advances. Polymer Technology, l., 20, 1, 22 (2001).