Veteran Researcher Named State Pollution Prevention Scientist

Nandakishore Rajagopalan has been appointed the Illinois Pollution Prevention Scientist.


The new designation was established in August 2013 by the Illinois State Legislature to serve as the authoritative spokesperson on matters of pollution prevention fact and policy for the state.


The announcement of this appointment was made on Nov. 22 by Prairie Research Institute Executive Director Bill Shilts.


Rajagopalan is an Associate Director at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of Prairie Research Institute, where he oversees the Applied Research on Industrial and Environmental Systems (ARIES) group. He has over 20 years of experience in plant operations, green process development, separation technologies, and pollution prevention research.


An active researcher, Rajagopalan holds three U.S. patents and has authored more than 30 peer reviewed journal articles. His research interests involve the integration of separations research to advance green process development with a special focus on membrane processes.


The Illinois Pollution Prevention Scientist also represents the state on national panels concerned with pollution prevention issues.


Shilts also appointed members of the Institute’s other divisions to serve as Illinois State Archeologist, Biologist, Climatologist, Entomologist, Geologist, and Hydrologist. It is another way in which the Institute marshals its expertise for the benefit of the state.


Nandakishore Rajagopalan







Wood Biochar Offers Promise of Cheap Supercapacitors

ISTC is investigating wood-biochar’s use as a supercapacitor. The material offers equal power capabilities as activated carbon, but is much less expensive.


A team led by Senior Engineer Junhua Jiang published results in the journal Electrocimica Acta, demonstrating the natural microstructures of biochars can be provide effective surface area for electrodes. Currently supercapactitors are often manufactured with corrosive chemicals that create elaborate structures of out of activated carbon.


Such procedures are far more expensive and can have environmental consequences.
Supercapacitors are super because they have far greater surface area electrodes than regular capacitors, allowing the rapid collection and release of ions. Cousins of electrochemical batteries, supercapacitors do not yet store as much energy, but they can release energy very quickly, recharge quickly and have high cycling stability. In other words, supercapacitors permit much faster discharge and recharge cycles than a battery is capable of, as well as tolerance of a larger number of discharge/charge cycles.


The Illinois Hazardous Waste Research Fund and the HeteroFoaM Center (an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Research) supported this study.


For more on biochar supercapacitors, visit

First Training Accreditation to Improve Home Weatherization in Illinois

Training programs for Energy Auditors and Quality Control Inspectors at the University of Illinois’ Indoor Climate Research & Training (ICRT) program have been awarded accreditation by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc.(IREC).


The ICRT energy conservation training programs are the first to earn accreditation in Illinois. Successful completion of such training programs prepares workers to obtain Home Energy Professional (HEP) certification under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). There are 35 local agencies delivering weatherization services in the state of Illinois, including CEDA in Chicago, which is the nation’s largest weatherization agency.


“It means we are recognized as having a high-quality curriculum that meets all the requirements of DOE’s Home Energy Professional certification for Energy Auditor and Quality Control Inspector,” said Paul Francisco, the Director of the ICRT training center. “Someone who successfully completes our training program can feel confident that he or she has everything they need to pass the HEP examination.”


ICRT is part of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) at the University of Illinois. It operates a training center for weatherization contractors, assessors and develops training curricula for the national home performance industry.  ICRT also performs research into issues related to residential energy and indoor air quality.


Accreditation affects the certifications for Energy Auditor and Quality Control Inspector now offered under the Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program. The Quality Control program was granted provisional accreditation since it has been available for less than a year.


There are a limited number of accredited weatherization training programs in the U.S., according to Francisco. The next goal for ICRT is to seek accreditation for its Retrofit Installers Training Program, he added.


Also a research engineer at ISTC, Francisco’s research focuses on energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and their interactions in residential buildings. His work emphasizes building science principles and understanding the ‘House as a System’ approach that includes both energy and the indoor environment. He is a member of the ad hoc Health and Safety Committee for DOE’s low-income Weatherization Assistance Program and a member of the Board of Directors of the Building Performance Institute.  He is also vice-chair of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Environmental Health Committee and the chair of the ASHRAE standard on residential ventilation.


Congress created WAP in 1976 to decrease residential energy expenditures, particularly of low-income Americans. WAP has distributed $200-250 million to weatherize about 100,000 homes per year nationwide. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $5 billion through March, 2013 to weatherize some 300,000 homes per year and to stimulate the economy by providing new jobs in the weatherization field.


Accreditation of training programs help drive effectiveness of WAP’s energy savings and health and safety goals, in addition to overall cost-effectiveness of the program, Francisco noted. He estimated that the ICRT program trained 300 workers and 300 contractors in Illinois during the ARRA period.


2013 Naturally Illinois Expo


The Prairie Research Institute presents the fifth annual Naturally Illinois Expo on March 8-9, 2013, on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. Families, teachers, and students of all ages are invited to attend and enjoy exhibits, demonstrations and hands-on activities that showcase the work of the Institute, home of the State Scientific Surveys (Illinois Natural History SurveyIllinois State Archaeological SurveyIllinois State Geological SurveyIllinois State Water Survey, and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center).  Continue reading “2013 Naturally Illinois Expo”

Webinar: Sustainable Secondary Aluminum Production and Recycling

Join us for a webinar today, Tuesday, December 11, 2012, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM CDT. This seminar will be hosted at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) in Champaign, IL, and simultaneously broadcast online. The presentation will be archived on the ISTC web site (see for more information and additional webinar archives).


Navid Jafari, M.S., NSF Fellow and Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will present “Sustainable Secondary Aluminum Production and Recycling.” Register online for this webinar at


Abstract: Aluminum is a widely used nonferrous metal in the world, being present in markets such as transportation, packaging, food, construction, electricity, and medicine. Recycling aluminum scrap is important because the energy required for aluminum recycling is only about 5% of that required by primary aluminum production yet it yields the same quality of aluminum as primary smelting. However, the wastes produced from secondary aluminum production can be problematic when they contain aluminum fines. Metallic aluminum fines can rapidly oxidize to produce heat and hydrogen gas. This presentation will describe sustainable practices to capture aluminum energy from waste reactions.


Watch the ISTC calendar for upcoming seminar dates. You may contact Nancy Holm, Assistant Director for Sponsored Research, Public Engagement, and Communications (SRPEC), to be added to the mailing list to receive email notifications of upcoming seminars.

2012 Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards

A pair of environmental recognition programs have joined together to honor Illinois organizations that have accomplished significant achievements in protecting the environment and helping to sustain the future. Winners of the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards and the Illinois Campus Sustainability Compact Awards Program were presented during a luncheon in Oak Brook, IL.  Continue reading “2012 Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards”

Grand Opening of the Indoor Climate Research & Training Facility

The ICRT Grand Opening Welcome Banner


The new Indoor Climate Research & Training (ICRT) program training facility was completed earlier this month and ISTC hosted an invitation only Grand Opening Ceremony.  Dr. Manohar Kulkarni (ISTC Director) and Paul Francisco (Research Engineer and Program Leader for ICRT) kicked of the ceremony with welcoming remarks and short history of the ICRT program.  Special guest Lt. Governor Sheila Simon was given the honor of cutting the ribbon for the official opening of the training facility.  Continue reading “Grand Opening of the Indoor Climate Research & Training Facility”

Science & Technology at the Market

This fall the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at the University of Illinois will be presenting information about several of its research and outreach projects at Urbana’s Market at the Square. Topics include:
• September 22 – Waste Biomass Projects: Turning waste into energy. Come learn how ISTC researchers, Dr. Junhua Jiang (Senior Research Engineer), uses biochar – a black carbon-rich solid made from biomass – in supercapacitors. Dr. B.K. Sharma (Senior Research Engineer) and Joe Pickowitz (Environmental Engineer) will also present how they turn everyday household and restaurant waste into bio-oils/bio-lubricants and biodiesel.

• September 29 – PPCPs in the Environment: More and more we hear of various chemicals being found in our streams and rivers. ISTC researcher, Dr. Wei Zheng (Senior Research Chemist), will discuss his research on fate and transport Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in the environment.

• October 6 – Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) and the Indoor Climate Research & Training: Have you ever wondered where your discarded electronics go or just how much electronic waste the US produces each year? Visit with Joy Scrogum (Emerging Technologies Resource Specialist) who can answer these questions and others about SEI, e-waste, and responsible recycling.
Your home is your sanctuary; a place where all the worries of the world go away. Learn with Bill Rose (Senior Research Architect) and the ICRT program about way to improve your sanctuary’s performance in the areas of indoor air quality, roofing materials and attic ventilation, freezing pipe conditions, thermal performance at wall-ceiling junctions, and more.

• October 20 – Mud to Parks: Have you ever seen abandoned industrial areas that are eye sores in communities? Come learn how ISTC’s John Marlin (Research Affiliate) helped to discover how river sediments can be used to turn old industrial sites into parks.

• October 27 – Water Use and Reuse: Ever wondered how your drinking water gets cleaned? Learn how a couple of ISTC researchers, Dr. Kishore Rajagopalan (Associate Director for Applied Research) and Eric Duitsman (Chemist), clean a variety of liquid wastes with reverse osmosis membrane technology.

• November 3 – Waste to Oil: Dr. B.K. Sharma is back to demonstrate how he turns those pesky plastic grocery bags and other discarded plastic items into oil.
For more information on ISTC and/or these topics, please visit or contact Elizabeth Luber at 217-333-7403 or or Nancy Holm at 217-244-3330 or

Scientists look to turning plastics into oil

On Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean, a mother albatross returns from a trip out to sea to feed her chick. Unfortunately, she has mistaken a few of the countless, small pieces of plastic in a floating island of garbage as an appropriate meal for her chick, which will die as a result.


With the negative impact of ocean-bound plastic waste, a trend of increasing gas prices, and an uncertain future in foreign oil importation, many people think changes are needed to protect both the environment and the economy.


As part of the effort to address these concerns, researchers at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) are looking into the process of converting carbon-rich plastic into oil that could kill—or in this case, save—two birds with one stone. They hope that a system of creating energy out of otherwise wasted plastic material will scale back the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills, the oceans and other waterways as well as decrease the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.


While plastic recycling programs are prevalent in many communities throughout the United States, much of the plastic that people dispose of is mixed in with regular garbage that is bound for a landfill.


Because the base material for most plastics is petroleum, it is possible to recover a percentage of that starting material with a series of chemical reactions.


“If we cannot recycle that completely then why should we waste that carbon?” asks ISTC Senior Research Scientist B.K. Sharma, who leads the ISTC’s plastics-to-oil project.


As a way to step in and prevent this plastic waste from going out the door and into an ocean or a landfill, Sharma and other researchers at ISTC are studying one way to add another “r” to the popular phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” They hope to add “recover”.


In order to recover that oil, plastic must be heated to a high temperature in the absence of oxygen in a process called pyrolysis. In one of the labs at ISTC, researchers load plastic into one of the two containers of a bench-top device, seal the top and begin to apply heat.


As the temperature increases, the molten plastic material breaks down into petroleum compounds, and a gas is produced. The gas rises to the top of the container, passes through a tube and empties into some water held by the device’s second container. Here, the gas vapors condense into liquid oil. The oil is less dense than the water, so it rises to the top and can be collected.


The process can convert three types of plastics into oil—polyethylene (recycling numbers 2 and 4), polypropylene (5) and polystyrene (6).


One of the most visible uses of polyethylene is in plastic grocery bags. Whether drifting down the street or caught in a tree, these bags seem to be everywhere, creating a widespread litter problem that is very difficult to clean up.


Plastic bottle caps and yogurt cups are examples of polypropylene that can be converted into oil. However, a silicone lining is often underneath the top of the cap to prevent leaks and must be removed prior to pyrolysis. Examples of polystyrene products include Styrofoam, disposable cups, plates, cutlery, and jewel CD cases.


Sharma’s work is part of a larger body of research into the pyrolysis process, which he and other ISTC researchers have been studying for over two years. They have been using waste biomass as the starting material in much of their research, and six months ago Sharma began looking into using plastic as a feedstock.


During small-scale lab runs, one gallon of oil is produced from eight lbs of plastic, Sharma said. Although only small amounts of plastic-derived oil are being produced by ISTC research, Sharma feels that if implemented on a larger scale, the resulting crude oil can be further refined into significant amounts of energy products, such as diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel.


ISTC is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.


For more information call:

B.K. Sharma, ISTC Senior Research Scientist



Radio stations WDWS and WHMS interviewed Dr. Sharma about the project. The archive is available here: PLASTICSWRAP