Could vegetables be the next source of fuel?

PITTSBURG, Kans. — What started as a passion in high school could soon lead to a major change in the construction industry.

“Dr. Gupta, he specifically told me, ‘ok we can do something like that,’ so he basically narrowed down my idea,” said Prasadi Abeysinghe, PSU Graduate Student.

Since she was in high school back in Sri Lanka, Prasadi Abeysinghe has wanted to use science to make a difference.

She traveled 6,000 miles to Pittsburg State University where she’s trying to find that green solution.

“We’re trying to replace, or we’re trying to find alternative sources to replace these petrol-based chemicals. Petrol-based chemicals are always finite. They’re depleting and there are growing concerns on impact to environmental issues,” said Abeysinghe.

So what is this alternative? It could just end up being vegetables.

“We use vegetable oils to replace these petrol-based chemicals to make polyurethane. As a vegetable oil I use castor oil we chemically modify to achieve the properties of petrol-based chemicals,” said Abeysinghe.

By using oxygen and hydrogen, vegetable oil could soon become the cheaper, more sustainable solution to petrol, changing how some industries operate that use this polyurethane foam.

“People use rigid polyurethanes for thermal insulation purposes in buildings or the construction industry,” said Abeysinghe.

This same chemical manipulation can be applied to other oils as well.

Right now, Abeysinghe is researching a similar process with oil from chicken fat.

“People throw it away without doing anything. So, if we can add value to this product to also make polyurethane, it will be a good project. So right now I’m working on that project too,” said Abeysinghe.

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