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Researching for a better world

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Prioritizing sustainability and polyurethanes to make the world a better place: Senior Scientist Dr. Alaaeddin Alsbaiee

Originally from Syria, Dr. Alaaeddin Alsbaiee has worked for various academic institutions and companies around the globe. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Applied Chemistry at the University of Damascus, Syria, and completed a master’s program in Organic Chemistry at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. After two more academic stops in North America and research roles at several chemical companies, he recently joined BASF as Lab Leader and Senior Scientist with a passion to make things better.  

Before joining BASF, you worked in research areas that have a huge impact on the quality of life. Are you a research hero?

Hero is such a big word – but thank you! During my Ph.D. years at the University of Alberta in Canada, I developed polymers that are used as coatings for titanium biomedical implants that treat bone fractures, making them more biocompatible and better accepted by the human body. Afterwards, I did my postdoc at Cornell University and developed biomass-derived and recyclable porous polymers with an exceptionally high surface area and an ability to instantaneously remove thousands of difficult-to-catch organic micropollutants from water including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, and many others. This work resulted in a successful start-up company “Cyclopure Inc.,” which currently commercializes these materials for water testing and purification. And when I was at Arkema, I was part of a team that developed the first recyclable thermoplastic wind turbine blade resin to reduce the environmental impact of wind turbine blades, which is currently commercialized. Finally, when I was at DuPont, I co-developed a new family of polyurethane chemical mechanical planarization pads (CMP-pads) for semiconductor fabrication, which improve the yield and efficiency of the CMP process and thus reduce waste and energy requirements of this process. This new family of pads is expected to go to market in the coming months. You can see commercializing sustainable chemical solutions has been an important part of my career journey so far.

 

Can you share some detail on the awards and recognition you have received for these and other professional accomplishments so far?

Sure. In 2018, I was recognized with an award by the American Institute of Chemical Engineering Engineers (AIChE) for these research achievements. The award honors eminent early career chemical scientists for career accomplishments and their impact to society. And more recently, in October 2021, I was thrilled to receive the “2021 Talented 12” award by Chemical & Engineering News and the American Chemical Society, which is one of the most prestigious global recognitions awarded to 12 emerging researchers annually who are professors in academia or scientists in industry whose groundbreaking research is widely recognized.

What brought you to BASF?

Basically, two main reasons – polyurethanes and sustainability. It’s very rewarding to see my research making an impact and I hope I can further contribute to solving global challenges by developing sustainable solutions at BASF. I want to become an expert in polyurethanes and in the industry, and BASF is renowned for its expertise in this area of material research. At the same time, I think the initiatives around sustainability at BASF really make a significant difference and there are only few companies prioritizing sustainability to this extent. I’m proud to now be able to support BASF’s sustainability journey and contribute to the company’s efforts to reduce the environmental impact of plastics.

 

What exactly are you doing at BASF?

My research is focused on polyurethanes and how to make them more impactful and sustainable. I’m overseeing several research projects that are following two different directions. The first one is developing new polyurethane formulations with enhanced performance and sustainability for consumer and automotive markets. For instance, my team is working on a new formulation for the automotive industry that includes castor oil as a bio-derived ingredient. The second is developing technologies to upcycle and to create valuable materials from post-industrial and post-consumer polyurethane waste. These kinds of wastes are very complex in terms of recyclability, and we are looking into ways to convert them to other types of polyurethane materials. Let’s think of an old mattress, for example. Instead of putting it into a landfill or breaking it down to pyrolysis oil, we try to turn its material components into an application of equal or higher value – such as car seats or furniture foam.

Chemically degradable polyurethanes are another research area I’m overseeing. It is more of a bottom-up approach, where we are trying to design a polyurethane polymer that is better degradable under certain chemical conditions.

We see huge value in upcycling technologies for polyurethanes and in developing polyurethane systems containing biobased ingredients, not only due to the positive environmental impact, but also for the economic opportunities they offer. More and more industries are looking for sustainable alternatives including furniture and automotive manufacturers. There is an increasing interest in how to break down the waste efficiently to extend the product lifecycle and a growing number of our customers are asking for sustainable polyurethanes with bioderived ingredients.

 

What are the most challenging aspects of your research?

I see two major technical challenges in improving sustainability and recyclability of polyurethanes. The first is dealing with the end of life of polyurethane waste given the highly complex composition and variation of the post-consumer waste feedstock.  Fortunately, we are collaborating with several academic institutions to find practical and economic solutions either to develop recycling technologies to deal with the current polyurethane waste or to develop polyurethanes that are chemically degradable by design. The second is the change of thermo-mechanical properties of polyurethanes upon incorporation of bioderived or chemically degradable components. There are very limited options of biomass-derived materials that we can include in our formulations. Sometimes, they alter the properties or the mechanical performance of the formulations in a way that makes them less appealing for a specific application.

That’s another advantage of working for BASF – we have thousands of scientists worldwide driven by the same curiosity and research passion that I feel. And being part of this international research collective tackling the most pressing challenges of our time makes me especially proud.

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For media inquiries and questions, please contact: molly.birman@basf.com