Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Marty Goolsby ()
Communications and External Relations


Burlage works with Japanese Researchers on biodegradable plastic

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Dec. 11, 1995 — Dr. Robert Burlage, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy's (DOE ) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is working with Japanese researchers to use biodegradable plastic in composting experiments.

Burlage originally met researchers from Japan's Showa Highpolymer Company during meetings arranged by ORNL. During Burlage's recent trip to Japan, the researchers shared their efforts to expand use of the biodegradable plastic as a replacement for conventional plastics. Conventional plastics are very resistant to degradation so they form a significant fraction of waste in landfills. Use of a biodegradable plastic will result in less landfill space needed for plastics.

The ORNL Waste Minimization Office has provided funding to adapt the plastic to radiological uses. Burlage and other staff researchers will arrange for garments made from biodegradable plastic to be tested for wear at nuclear reactors or for industrial uses. Researchers also hope these garments can be decomposed to carbon dioxide by fungi and bacteria, thereby reducing the amount of radioactive contaminated material.

Although collaboration between ORNL researchers and Japanese researchers is rare, Burlage sees it as an opportunity for future tasks. While in Japan, Showa Highpolymer Company arranged for him to meet with representatives from other industries to discuss research on composting.

Burlage received his doctorate in microbiology from the University of Tennessee. He also received a master of science in biology from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a bachelor's degree in biology from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.

Burlage lives in Knoxville with his wife, Karen, and children Austin, 3 and Elaina, 1.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.