Polymers that give U.S. Companies Competitive Edge

Polymer composites have applications in solar cells, water filtration, and manufacturing, where high-quality/low-cost materials can give U.S. companies a competitive edge. Nidal Abu-Zahra, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Materials Science and Engineering, creates polymer composites that—compared to their predecessors—are stronger, cheaper, longer lasting, and reduce the amount of by-products that manufacturers send to landfills.

Abu-Zahra is currently developing a new consumer decking material, a polymer composite combined with 15 percent fly ash particles obtained from We Energies. The fly ash replaces filler, creates a stronger product and is free. In addition, encapsulating the coal-combustion byproduct, which is toxic, prevents it from being landfilled. “We are looking for applications which best encapsulate fly ash in plastic,” he says.

The research focuses on understanding the relationship between composition, structure, properties, and performance of these materials in order to maximize their benefits.

A by-product of Abu-Zahra’s own cutting-edge research is the creation of a roadmap for others to follow when creating new applications for using fly ash in plastics-based products. “While fly ash has been used as an additive in cement, its use with commodity plastics is a new line of study,” Abu-Zahra says.

The use of polymer composites in water filtration is another area Abu-Zahra is pursuing. He is working with foam manufacturer FXI Innovations to develop a foam filter capable of absorbing 70-80 percent of lead in water.

You can contact Nidal Abu-Zahra at: Nidal@uwm.edu or 414-229-2668.