School of Chemical Engineering

Biography

Leela grew up in the bush land of Margaret River, WA and this is the foundation for her appreciation of the natural environment. Leela holds a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of Western Australia and graduated as the valedictorian. During her undergraduate studies she was fully supported by a UWA Fogarty Foundation Scholarship.

Her academic experience incorporates working in multiple synthetic chemistry laboratories both at UWA and USyd.

She has worked as a science communicator as part of Scietch’s Outreach team (Perth’s science discovery centre).  This work included delivering interactive science shows and workshops for all age groups, including working in remote Aboriginal communities. She also has experience running chemistry practicals and chemical engineering tutorials at the university level.

Leela’s core interest lies in how we can develop an environmentally sustainable society that is compatible with our modern lifestyle and she is inspired by the concepts underpinning green chemistry, biomimicry and the circular economy.

Research Project

Title: The development and sustainability analysis of high-performance, multi-layered, biodegradable food packaging.

Advisors: Dr. Bronwyn Laycock (principal), Assoc/Prof Steven Pratt, Prof Paul Lant.

Summary of project: 

It is estimated that up to 30% of plastic packaging materials will never be eligible for recycling without fundamental materials redesign, and therefore are destined for landfill or incineration. However, this has not hindered the rapid growth in the production of (often single use) packaging materials and the result is increased pressure on waste management systems. At the same time, there is growing concern for the negative environmental impacts of unmanaged recalcitrant plastics, especially in regards to marine pollution. Clearly, there is an environmental imperative to redesign aspects of the plastics system, particularly in regards to waste management.

A key target for redesign of plastic packaging is food packaging, firstly, due to sheer volume, secondly, because a large proportion of food packaging falls into the non-recyclable category. Multi-layer packaging is one of these target materials, as whilst it has found favour because it provides the high gas and water barrier properties associated with reduced food wastage, the use of mixed materials ultimately compromises recyclability.

However, it is envisioned that a multi-layer, biodegradable packaging could provide a solution and  that a thermoplastic starch (TPS) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) layered material could be a promising target material.

Currently, such high-performance, multi-layered, biodegradable materials are not well developed and there is no consensus as to the overall sustainability of biodegradable polymers. Thus, this provides a basis for the PhD research project.

The project follows three lines of investigation to comprehensively investigate the sustainability as well as material properties of a PHA/TPS food packaging material: (i) technical development of the new material (ii) environmental analysis of the new material, and (iii) an investigation of the role of the new material in society.  

Achievement Highlights

Postgraduate:

  • Westpac Future Leaders scholarship (value $120,000 over the course of the PhD)

Undergraduate:

  • UWA Fogarty Foundation regional scholarship (value $80,000 over the course of an undergraduate degree)
  • Valedictorian

Leela Dilkes-Hoffman photo

PhD Student

Room: 627

Building: Advanced Engineering (49)

p: 336 57132

e: s4420617@student.uq.edu.au