Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering
Dr. JOHN VLACHOPOULOS is Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at McMaster University, CANADA. He was educated in Greece (NTU, Athens) and the USA (Washington University, St. Louis, Mo). He is the author/co-author of more than 300 publications, two textbooks and coeditor of two other books. He was on sabbatical research leave at I.K.T. Stuttgart, Germany (1975) and CEMEF, ParisTech, Sophia Antipolis, France (1981-82, 1988-89). He has received Awards for his research accomplishments, from the Society of Plastics Engineers (2001, 2004 and 2014, USA), the Canadian Society of Rheology (2007) and he is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (FCAE). He was President of the Polymer Processing Society (PPS) 2005-2007 and member of several other professional associations. Through his company POLYDYNAMICS INC he has developed and licensed flow simulation software to more than 500 corporations in 30 countries, he is an active consultant in the polymer processing industry and frequent lecturer in conferences and seminars around the world, in English, French, German, Spanish and Greek.
As the population of the world is approaching 8 billion, with an annual increase of 80 million, and as the global standard of living is raised, the demand for materials for housing, transportation and food is increasing. Mining, whether open pit or underground has very serious impacts on the environment, including air and water pollution. In the province of Alberta, Canada, bitumen is mined in gigantic open pits which have devastated the landscape and destroyed the livelihood of indigenous hunters and fishermen. Increased demand for food, necessitates more fertilizers. Greater need for transportation means greater demand for petroleum and more greenhouse gas emissions. Food production and distribution also requires huge quantities of packaging (plastics, paper, metals, glass). Excessive use of fertilizers results in draining of significant quantities into streams, rivers and lakes, which increases the growth of aquatic plants and algae, depletes oxygen and kills off fish and other aquatic life, adversely impacting the water ecosystem. Most food packaging is single use plastic products and a portion of them pollutes the oceans. Clothing is another sector of the economy, which requires large quantities of fertilizers and plastics and produces about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions (four times more than those produced by commercial aviation). The choice is either natural fibers or synthetic. Natural fibers include cotton, linen, wool and silk. Synthetic fibers include polyester and nylon, which are polymers, usually referred to as plastics. To the uninformed, cotton appears to be more environment friendly than polyester. However, the vast majority of experts agree that while linen (produced from fibers of the flax plant) has the best, cotton has the worst impact on the environment, due to excessive need for water per kilogram produced. Polyester has its own negative impact due to use of hydrocarbon for polymer production and eventually sheds microfibers during laundering, which are not biodegradable and pollute marine and drinking water. Microplastic pollution also comes from the 2 billion tires used every year, because about 25% of the rubber is left on the road. There are no easy solutions, but the catchwords “REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE” point in the right direction. To these, REDESIGN and RESEARCH must be added as the challenges will be mounting in the years ahead. Redesigned products might be made with less environmental impact during production and might be better suited for reuse and recycling. Redesign is not only for products, products, it includes also lifestyle changes. In USA and Canada, we rely heavily on automobiles and airliners for transportation, while Europe and Japan make use of less polluting railways. Research may result in better mining practices, better soil remediation technologies, more efficient recycling methods, low price biodegradable plastic products, more efficient solar panels, polymer coatings for controlled release fertilizers and much more.