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December 04, 2023 | Tom Ballard

There’s a message in Re-Du’s name

The start-up is focused on reducing, recycling, and remaking plastic waste into useful products, time and time again.

No doubt you’ve noticed just how much plastic waste ends up on the side of the road or in landfills. What if something could be done to reuse the material in other beneficial ways.

MD “Arif” Arifuzzaman

That’s the focus of Re-Du, one of the participants in Cohort 7 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The company was founded by MD “Arif” Arifuzzaman, a native of Bangladesh who invented an effective organocatalyst while a Post Doc at the lab.

The start-up’s name says a lot about its focus. “We can reduce, recycle, and remake,” Arifuzzaman says, adding, “We can do it again and again.”

The technology that he invented can convert various types of plastics such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polycarbonate (PC), polyurethane (PU), and polyamide (PA) that are used as bottles, carpets, textiles, packaging, and foams into marketable chemicals.

“Think about a soft drink bottle with different types of colors,” Arifuzzaman says. “Most processes require separation; Re-Du’s does not. We can recycle any color; it doesn’t matter.”

He adds that the material being recycled does not have to be dry, another advantage for the company.

Re-Du’s unique selling proposition is that the technology can be used to process mixed plastic waste that is currently going to the landfill because it is too hard to sort. As a result, the recycled chemicals that are produced through the Re-Du conversion process will lessen the need for crude oil and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Arifuzzaman validated the value proposition through participation in two I-Corps programs – one hosted by the Department of Energy and another offered for ORNL researchers – where he has done more than 100 customer discovery interviews.

His research has also resulted in 20 peer-reviewed articles and the submission of a provisional patent on the mixed use plastic deconstruction process.

Arifuzzaman concluded his ORNL Post Doc appointment at the end of August, dedicating himself full-time to Re-Du even though he is the sole source of financial support for his family that includes his wife and two children.

He came to ORNL in 2020 after doing a Post Doc at the University of Connecticut. Before immigrating to the U.S., Arifuzzaman earned his B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry at Jahangirnagar University followed by a second M.S. in Organic Chemistry at Tennessee State University and his Ph.D. from Iowa State University.

Re-Du has a lab prototype, and Arifuzzaman wants to have a functioning 20-litre reactor by the end of 2024. A full-blown pilot plant would be the next step in the scaling-up process as he continues the all-important customer discovery process.

He says that he has talked already with numerous chemical companies, polymer manufacturers, and consumer goods producers, giving him a good feel for their needs.

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