If sustainability is the new trend, then Professor Marc Dubé is definitely on point

Posted on Monday, December 15, 2014

Using orange peels – or rather a substance extracted from orange peels – instead of toxic petroleum to help bind paint products is just one of the tricks that uOttawa engineering professor Marc Dubé has up his sleeve.

“I want people to realize that although we are going after bio-based, renewable materials, we aren't doing so at the expense of food products,” he says. “We are targeting waste, such as orange peels, which are non-food items.”

Dubé is on a mission to wean the world off the habit of using non-renewable fossil fuels to produce paints, plastics, resins and adhesives. Cooking oils and common wood waste, such as dead trees and yard clippings, are sustainable resources: the more of these we use, the fewer pollutants we release into the environment. For example, to research new ways of producing biodiesel fuel, Dubé picked up vats of used frying oil from a popular Ottawa restaurant.

“Everyone is so focused on dwindling petroleum supplies that are crucial for energy, heating and transportation. The alternatives exist, like solar power and electric cars, for example,” explains Professor Dubé. “However, many fail to realize that over 99% of the materials (polymers) used to build these products are derived from petroleum. No petroleum, no solar energy, no electric cars.” Professor Dubé and his team are trying to find alternative ways to produce polymers from renewable, often bio-based, feedstocks.

For some time now, Dubé and his team have been faithfully following the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry, which include reducing harmful solvents, using renewable materials and designing products to be biodegradable.

“Our research speaks to the bigger picture of what's happening in the world.”

More recently, Dubé has supervised the thesis work of graduate student Yujie Zhang and PhD candidate Shanshan Ren on combining different types of limonene molecules, which can be useful in producing sticky tape or glue. Dubé is clearly teaching future generations to recycle the well-known “waste not, want not” motto and to strive to make the world just a little bit greener.

Are consumers able to buy into this sustainability?

“Not yet. We are working with a Canadian company making starch-based polymers. We expect that our research results will be commercialized within the next five years.”

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