Skip to main content
Student Spotlight

Lucille Verster Rivera, Degradation Modalities of Synthetics and Bio-Based Fiber Nonwoven

Lucille Verster, The Nonwovens Institute

Lucille Verster Rivera

Degree Type: Ph.D.
Expected Graduation Date: 2025
School/Department: NC State University, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Department of Forest Biomaterials
Program Focus: Chemical Engineering and Forest Biomaterials
Research Project: Unraveling Degradation Modalities of Synthetics and Bio-Based Fiber Nonwoven
Professor/Faculty Advisor: Lokendra Pal, Ph.D., NC State University; Orlin D. Velev, Ph.D., NC State University

How did you come to have an interest in nonwovens?

During my master’s research project, I focused on the environmental impact of plastics and microplastics. Through this project, I became aware of the importance of sustainability for our present and future. Nonwovens are commonly made from plastic fibers and are widely used in our daily lives. Their unique properties infer that they will remain part of our lives for an exceedingly long time. As such, studying their breakdown mechanisms in a harmonized and comparative manner will aid the continued improvement of these products and will have a positive impact on the environment to ensure a more sustainable future for society and industry.

Why are your research/findings particularly important/compelling for nonwovens applications?

My research project aims to provide standardized methods and breakdown criteria to quantify, visualize and characterize the degradation and photostability of polymer fibers and nonwoven involving fiber fragmentation. The exposure of nonwoven to UV and thermal degradation are being evaluated.

The MFD can handle various types of fiber and nonwoven samples. These samples are placed in the left chamber and exposed to different environments, such as high temperatures, UV light, and mechanical strain. The device can have either water or air flow through it. The nonwoven material will degrade during the simulation, and the broken fiber fragments will move to the second chamber for further analysis.

As part of developing repeatable and harmonized testing techniques, the project is developing a novel millifluidic flow device (MFD). This MFD, experimental methods and criteria could be used for the predictive evaluation of industrial polymers in terms of environmental degradability.

This fundamental work will help generate universal exposure-breakdown correlations to guide nonwoven developments and increase the understanding of the product life cycle. The precise characterization and manipulation of chemical, mechanical, thermal, and light (photo) degradation will be studied under controlled microenvironments that simulate environmental exposure conditions.

Here is the experimental setup for testing MFD prototypes under a UV lamp. The setup involves a peristaltic pump that moves water from the “feed” beaker through the device and into the “discharge” beaker. To prevent any fragments from escaping the device, filter paper will be placed in the second chamber. Additionally, a camera is in place to capture real-time macroscopic changes in a nonwoven patch.

Where do you see yourself upon completion of your studies?

After completing my studies at NC State, I plan to remain in the petrochemical or nonwoven industry in a research and development capacity. I aim to leverage the skills and expertise acquired during this project in a technical role to ensure the continued development and improvement of plastic and nonwoven products. Advancing the industry and promoting a positive impact on the environment is important to my career ambitions and personal ideals. I hope to transition into an industry expert and into a consulting role in the longer term. 

When you are not studying and doing your nonwovens research project, what are your personal interests, hobbies … any activities you would like to highlight?

I enjoy spending time with my loved ones and reading books during my free time. I have recently incorporated crafting into my routine to cope with stress and have been learning to crochet. I love traveling and experiencing new places and cultures. Additionally, I like to stay active by working out or going on an outdoor run.