Rochester businessman adding plastics to green movement

(Post-Bulletin 5-18-2012)    P.J. Schmitt has a very green and novel vision of the future of plastics. "Imagine taking trash that would go into a landfill and make it a reusable commodity that could be made into a wide variety of products," says Schmitt, a building contractor and self-taught plastics engineer. The Rochester native recently formed Envirolastech Inc. in Rochester with local friends to try to do just that.

After extensive research, Schmitt has created an artificial wood from recycled plastics. It mixes fly ash, which is mineral waste from coal-burning power plants, with pellets of recycled plastic milk jugs.

Testing different formulations, he found that his artificial wood could be cut, drilled, painted and nailed. He says it's stronger than wood, impervious to to salt water, more durable and can be reprocessed up to 12 times.

The big surprise came when outside testing found that his plastic wood became stronger as it became colder. Usually, plastic becomes more brittle as the temperature drops.

"This technology changes all of the rules of plastics," Schmitt says. "It kind of wrecks everything plastics engineers are learning in school right now."

The timing wasn't good for his invention eight or nine years ago when he came up with it. "Green" building materials were not accepted, and then the housing market faded.

He moved back to his hometown, returned to working as a contractor and put his artificial wood on the shelf. Now, with the help of Mitch Augeson, Tim Pickett and others, Schmitt is trying to set up a manufacturing facility to make siding.

"The siding is kind of our proof that it can do what we say it does," Augeson says. "We have about 25 products so far that we can make." That includes retaining walls, docks, railroad ties and decorative "wood" chips.

Schmitt and Augeson hope to raise about $6 million to transform a former horse farm on Marion Road into a manufacturing plant. The goal is to begin construction this fall and start production late this year or early next year.
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