Sydney wunderkind creates 'green' plastic from nut waste

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Pistachio nut shells: the basis for new organic, biodegradable plastics?
Pistachio nut shells: the basis for new organic, biodegradable plastics?
Marco Arment, Flickr CC

A 15-year-old student at James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney who developed an organic, biodegradable plastic from the shells of pistachio nuts in his ‘home laboratory’ was one of several young scientists representing at the 2016 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) held in Phoenix, Arizona in mid-May.

Aniruddh Chennapragada was among only half a dozen students from New South Wales chosen to compete at Intel ISEF 2016. https://student.societyforscience.org/intel-isef

“It was possibly the greatest surprise ever because I honestly didn’t believe I’d be able to qualify,” he told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in May. “When I got the news I was very shocked and pleasantly surprised.”

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a program of the Society for Science & the Public (SSP), is the world’s largest the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, offering high-school students from all over the world the chance to showcase their independent research and compete for around $4 million in prize money.

Chennapragada’s project was a fourth-place winner in the 2016 Intel ISEF awards’ Environmental Engineering category, https://www.societyforscience.org/content/press-room/intel-isef-2016-grand-award-winners netting him US$500 in prize money – and an international vote of confidence.

Check out a short video of this year's Intel ISEF highlights below.

Chennapragada’s DIY pistachio-waste to plastic process

Aniruddh Chennapragada’s project entailed applying chemical treatments to pistachio nut shells – hundreds of tonnes of which are discarded nationwide every day –  to extract a polymer that’s organic and biodegradable.

“It started off last year for a school science project investigating bio-plastics and then over the course of the last half year I’ve developed the project,” Chennapragada told the Daily Telegraph.

“I was able to create plastics that are comparable to commercial plastics,” he said. “The method I used was completely done at home; it was a home laboratory project.”

James Ruse High’s Head of Science, Sheila Pooviah, told the Daily Telegraph Chennapragada was highly self-motivated and excelled in many disciplines, and that his project had real commercially viability.

“It’s so important that we replace the petro chemicals we are getting from fossil fuels,” she said.

“The potential [in Chennapragada’s new nut-waste-to-plastic process] is fantastic because it’s both renewable and biodegradable.”

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