Bioplastics Research

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I am Sheikh Ahamed, a full-time student admitted in fall 2018 for Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University (ISU). I am currently working on a research supported by Ford Motor Company in Agriculture and Bio system Engineering lab at ISU. As I have recently joined Montazami group at Iowa State University, I am learning ropes of the project and equipment. The objective of my research is to develop bio-plastics and bio-composites economically with improved mechanical properties like strength, stiffness and thermal stability. In the automotive industry, R&D activities are increasing in bio-based resin systems as the pressure to lightweight auto parts and participate in sustainability and recyclability programs mounts.

I have also worked on the research supported by ONR (Office of Naval Research) for two years at the University of Akron, OH while pursuing MS in Mechanical Engineering. I investigated the structural response of composite plates subjected to water blast loading. I conducted Finite Element Analysis (FEA) simulation to study acoustic wave propagation in both cylindrical composite shell and composite-foam sandwich subjected to underwater blast and found blast mitigating underwater structures.

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Before joining graduate school, I worked as a Mechanical Design Engineer for Volvo Trucks, Bangalore, India for three years. I enjoyed running FEA simulation for NVH reduction and designing car interiors and engine assembly. I always wanted to work in automotive R & D. My prior experience with composite materials inspired me to focus on this area. Before I joined the new research team, I was in the pursuit of earth-saving research. Working every day and realizing how I am contributing for the good cause of environment keeps me motivated in my research. Doing research in bio-composites and bio-plastics fulfill my expectations and instill me with divine pride.

In my research, I am turning plant materials into resins, polymers and tough reinforcing fibers to produce petroleum-free composites that go into automotive interiors. With more findings, the future of my research would replace most of the conventional automotive parts with more biomaterials ultimately saving millions of pounds of carbon dioxide emission annually and reducing production cost. Soy foam seats are now in every North American-built Ford vehicle, saving over 5 million lb. of petroleum and 30 million lb. of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Bioplastics, biocomposites and biosensors are the areas of my research with primary focus in automotive parts. My research is now at preliminary phase where I am using agave fiber to fabricate bio-composites using injection molding. As Ph.D. program requires me to take classes related to my area of research, this scholarship would help me learn Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) course and apply to the investigation I am doing. The potentiality of my study may culminate into making the car fully recyclable.

On average, people in the United States throw away about 60 billion pounds of plastic a year. In Western Europe, this figure is as high as 35 billion pounds. With all this plastic being stored in landfills, the amount of green house gases being emitted increases each year. For example, one sixteen ounce plastic bottle produces one kilogram of carbon. With the growing threat of global warming and ozone depletion, our future lies in making cars with green and sustainable materials. One of the areas where plastic is heavily is in the automotive industry. A car, on average, has over 20,000 different parts which are often made from petroleum based plastic. For example, companies like Delphi Automotive and Ford Motor Company use petroleum based plastics to make everything from car interiors to bumpers. There are different plastics that are used to produce a car. For example, some parts such as oil pans are made from PET resins.

According to data from 2005 PlasticEurope, it takes roughly 0.4 gallons of crude oil to make 1 pound of plastic. Globally, around 8 percent of the oil that comes out of the ground is used to make plastic. With the heavy use of petroleum plastic, we need to identify opportunities to use more environmentally friendly plastics. A part that is often overlooked but holds great potential for bioplastic is the ventilation duct. It is used to circulate fluids. Other parts of a car that can be made from bioplastic materials are headliners, floor mats, seat cushion foam, side trim, inner and outer scuff plates, and deck trim covers. There are a number of benefits to using bioplastic in automotive manufacturing. First, bioplastic is more carbon neutral than conventional petroleum-based plastics, meaning it can lessen product-lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions. Second, using bioplastic can lead to a reduction in the use of limited petroleum resources. Third, it helps reduce the weight of the cars which leads to better fuel efficiency.

In conclusion, bioplastics are a revolutionary material that is changing how cars are made. Currently, it is being used to make a few components, but as chemists and engineers become more aware of its benefits, more car parts will be biobased. Over the past year I have done experiments on bioplastic at Ecotek Lab. This experience, coupled with my love of science, will hopefully allow me to contribute to the growing field of green material science in the future. It takes resources to propel the research forward and I am hopeful that the combination of scholarship and research grant would help me complete Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with four research publications.

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Bioplastics Research. (2022, Jun 09). Retrieved from

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