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    Duquesne Professor’s Machine Means Business for Plastic Bottles

    A simple machine that can turn discarded plastic bottles into a superior roofing material for tropical climates has been designed by Duquesne University business professor Dr. David Saiia.

    Saiia, an associate professor of strategic management and sustainability, is obtaining a patent for the table-top, hand-powered, special-purpose lathe.

    Reducing the volume of plastic waste that chokes even the most out-of-the way village in the poorest nations and turning it into strips of translucent, impervious roofing material at a negligible cost is a worthy goal, but Saiia is looking to create business opportunities for local entrepreneurs in regions like the fragile cloud forest of Ecuador, where Saiia generated the idea.

    Saiia was investigating sustainable enterprises for the small farmers of the Macquipucuna region and "literally sketched [the machine] on the back of a napkin."

    The machine works like a hand-cranked apple corer. By turning the crank, an empty plastic bottle rotates against a cutting blade, producing a meter-long coil of plastic. This coil is straightened and creased along its length by a pair of opposed rollers.

    The strips attach to a bamboo slat approximately the same length, producing a square "panel" of plastic thatching that can be fixed to rafters to form a roof. This roof, according to Saiia, will allow the air in steamy interiors to escape but can last up to 10 times as long as organic thatch. He also believes that his plastic thatch is better than the corrugated metal or fiberglass roofs that trap heat and smoke, plus produce a rattling, often deafening, din during downpours.

    Saiia and students in Duquesne's MBA Sustainability program conducted an analysis for launching the product. They concluded that the existing machine, along with opportunities for franchising it, could benefit from making it partially or perhaps fully automated.

    Saiia is working on designs for a bio-diesel powered model and is looking for other uses for the plastic strips. "That's the obvious next step in terms of a business plan," he said. "Get the primary product out there and then determine how you extend the line."

    Duquesne University

    Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic research universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. The University is nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review for its rich academic programs in 10 schools of study for 10,000-plus graduate and undergraduate students, and by the Washington Monthly for service and contributing to students' social mobility. Duquesne is a member of the U.S. President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction for its contributions to Pittsburgh and communities around the globe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Princeton Review's Guide to Green Colleges acknowledge Duquesne's commitment to sustainability.