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World-first research uncovers sustainable material for production of plastics

In our consumer-driven society, consumption more often than not trumps innovation. But Manufacturing and Materials Engineer, Dr Hao Wang, is shining the spotlight on the sustainable production of plastics with a revolutionary approach to polymer production that is an academic and manufacturing world-first.

Dr Hao Wang

As a young engineering student growing up in China, Dr Wang’s hands were constantly building, making and creating all manner of inventions. After completing his undergraduate studies, his path veered towards materials engineering.

“I could see how materials play a vital role in human society and in technology advancements,” he reflects.

Hard work, dedication and perseverance have ensured that Dr Wang’s career has constantly evolved — across continents, tertiary institutions and research fields. Since his arrival at USQ in 2006, Dr Wang has aligned his research with the findings at the University’s Centre of Excellence in Engineered Fibre Composites (CEEFC).

“Being a small University, we are able to identify the areas where we have strengths. Then we can concentrate our resources on these areas, such as fibre composites.”

Primarily channelling his research towards natural hemp crops, Dr Wang’s drive for green engineering developments has helped him achieve very promising results.

“Material development and research has come to the stage where sustainability is now a critical issue,” he says.

His approach to sustainability is three- fold — concerning the source of materials, the processing of goods, and the disposal of products. With the support of his colleagues and PhD students, Dr Wang started to look at alternative materials that could replace petroleum-based materials, including natural vegetable oils.

“We found you can actually achieve even better results with hemp oil than with petroleum-based oil,” he explains.

A firm believer in transferring innovative research into community-centric success stories, Dr Wang says the development of a renewable fibre composite industry in the Southeast Queensland region will have a positive impact on the community.

“Now we have the possibility to use hemp fibres and hemp oil-based polymers to make totally renewable and green-fibre composites, working alongside the local farmers and local polymer manufactures.”
Hardworking, Dr Wang encourages students and professionals alike to delve into the nuts and bolts of a task.

“Once you start a project you need to understand the fundamental issues involved. Dig deeper and deeper and ask questions. Finally, you need to understand industry needs - understand your customer - in order to meet their timelines and to solve their problems.”