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Innovation & Startups

Duquesne professor's invention churns plastic bottles into thatch for roofs

Imagine a simple machine that turns plastic bottles into a thatch-like roofing material in sun-baked, developing countries.
Duquesne University business professor David Saiia has invented a tabletop lathe, similar to a hand-cranked apple corer, which shreds empty plastic bottles into long coils of plastic. The plastic is then straightened and layered like thatch from bamboo rafters on the roof. 
It could be a transformative project in developing countries, says Saiia, associate professor of strategic management and sustainability.  Saiia was investigating sustainable enterprises for the small farmers of the Macquipucuna region in Ecuador when he hit on the idea, sketching it on the back of a napkin.
Plastic thatch not only reuses virgin plastic efficiently, it will create jobs and is a far superior roofing material. 
Unlike the corrugated metal or fiberglass roofing found in the southern hemisphere, plastic thatch is porous, allowing hot air, heat and smoke to escape, creating a cooler environment inside the home. It's also quieter during heavy rainstorms, lets in light and last 10 times longer than organic thatch.    
Saiia raised an initial $60,000 through the Lemelson Foundation to produce a prototype in Ecuador with the help of students in Duquesne’s MBA Sustainability program. The students conducted an analysis for launching the product.
A nonprofit was created, The Reuse Everything Institute, through which Saiia hopes to raise additional funds. The next step is to hire an engineer to build the next generation of the machine.  
"It's a very low tech design now, but it works," he says. "I'd like to make it mobile, mount it on a truck and run it on biodiesel." 
Potentially, it could be used to create roofing for emergency relief work and in areas recovering from disaster. The project could also create business opportunities for local entrepreneurs in regions like the fragile cloud forest of Ecuador. 
Source: David Saiia, Duquesne University

Image courtesy of Duquesne University
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