Two local academics are leading an effort to help underdeveloped countries with economic development.

Jeffrey Seay, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering with the University of Kentucky College of Engineering in Paducah, is behind an effort to bring mechanical processors to Uganda and India which convert waste plastics into fuel.

Seay and graduate student Chandni Joshi Jangid are seeking a grant from the Paducah Rotary Club to help pay for a project in Uganda next summer that would focus on waste plastic.

"It's a comparatively simple process where we can take waste plastic and convert it into fuel oil," Seay said.

That process could not only help developing countries build a resource but also bring jobs in the collection and operation of the process.

Last year, Seay received a district Rotary grant that was used to build a processor to convert waste plastic into fuel oil. He and Jangid recently returned from a trip to Uganda to see how the project was going.

"We've given this processor to a family in Kampala, Uganda, who is working with the Rotary Club in Kampala," Seay said. "They are currently making and selling fuel oil from waste plastic.

"It's been really successful. That's one of the reasons that Rotary is interested in expanding the project."

Seay said that he and Jangid are focusing not on the chemistry involved, but developing a low-cost process without having a technical infrastructure in place in countries like Uganda.

"We've been able to design this process, ship it overseas and get people who don't have a formal technical education to work it," he said. "In fact, the woman who is operating the process is, basically, a homemaker. Her husband is a schoolteacher.

"So, when she finishes her household work for the day, she runs the processor and makes this diesel fuel from waste plastic. She is making a significant profit. In American terms, it's not a lot of money, but it is significantly higher than the average wage in that part of Uganda."

The project came out of the Second Symposium on Global Sustainability, held in early October in Rome, to which Seay and Jangid were invited.

"This was organized by two entities," Seay said. "One is the Vatican's Dicastery on Integrating Human Development, and the other group, who handled the logistics, is Pazmany Peter Catholic University in Hungary."

Seay said that it is a secular mission that is supported by the Vatican. In 2015, Pope Francis published a Laudato Si, a letter sent to all bishops that spelled out the Vatican's stance on sustainability and stewardship of the environment.

"One of Pope Francis' primary objectives as pope is improving the situation for the world's poor," Seay said. "What this symposium is designed to do is gather world experts in the field of sustainability together to make sure that the Catholic Church tries to implement the vision of the Laudato Si in a way that is informed by the most recent science.

From Paducah to Uganda, ideas are being made into reality to help developing nations become more self-sustaining, perhaps assisting other nations become a more productive member of the worldwide community.

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