Caltech Ph.D. Turns Landfill into Better Roads

January 28 00:26 2022
Shelly Zhang is on a mission to save the environment through her innovative product that builds stronger roads and resilient infrastructure using landfills.

United States – Shelly Zhang, a 34-year-old Caltech Ph.D. graduate, and entrepreneur, is the founder of a green tech startup that turns landfill into pavements. Her company, Molten, has developed a special method to dissolve and lock up landfill waste such as post-consumer plastics, and used motor oils into a pavement sealer that enhances the pavement’s life, by waterproofing and protecting its surface.


Today, plastic pollution is a widespread problem. According to industry estimates, only about 9% of all plastic ever made has likely been recycled, with 12% of all plastic waste having been incinerated. The remaining 79% has accumulated in either landfill or the natural environment, if not still in use. Every year, millions of seabirds and marine mammals die from plastic pollution in our oceans. According to a study by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control, nearly 93 percent of people tested positive for BPA (a potentially harmful chemical present in plastic products).

Molten was founded with a vision to address the growing problem of plastic pollution. The company is setting a precedent with its proprietary technology that is set to revolutionize the way roads are made.

Each 20-pound box of Molten’s pavement sealer contains the recycled plastic equivalent to about 100 wastewater bottles. A mile of a four-lane highway repaired with Molten’s sealant diverts more than 1,500 Tons of landfill from being burned. To put this in perspective, that is about the landfill generated by the entire city of Seattle in a day.

“I want to do something for the environment, for our society, and also for my 3-year-old daughter,” says Shelly. “I want my child to live in a healthy environment when she grows up. The disastrous misuse and misplacement of our society’s plastic waste has become a real threat to our future generations.”

While in graduate school at Caltech, she helped her dad, a self-taught mechanical engineer, sell road repair machines that he designed and made. She quickly realized that the pavement industry has a lot of potential for innovation. The products for making and repairing pavements have remained practically unchanged over the past 100 years while technology has advanced so much beyond.

“All the smart young people prefer to go into software. Traditional industries like asphalt and concrete are not seen as glamorous career choices and get virtually zero attention. And these are huge markets,” notes Shelly.

So in 2016, after earning her Ph.D. from Caltech, instead of going into big tech names such as Google like her peers, she decided to take on the pavement industry. Now her startup, Molten, has customers ranging from homeowners working on their driveway, to asphalt contractors, to cities and state DOTs repairing highways.

Molten is committed to investing in research and development to continue to enhance existing products and develop new products that will aid in its mission to create a better environment for future generations. As part of its sustainability initiative, Molten is also building a network of certified contractors and provides them the necessary support including sales tools, training, and long-term benefits.

“My mission is to turn landfill into stronger infrastructure,” said Shelly. Her ambitious goal is to double the plastic recycling capacity in the US by 2025. That means Molten will need to recycle roughly 860,000 Kilo Tons of plastic in a year. With ample drive and a clear goal, this female entrepreneur is well on her way to making a big impact.

About Molten

Molten is an innovative green-tech startup that has developed indigenous technology to turn landfills into durable pavements that have a long life. The brainchild of a young female entrepreneur, Shelly Zhang, the company is committed to developing sustainable eco-friendly products that will go a long way in reducing plastic pollution from the environment.

For more information about Molten and other inquiries, send an email to [email protected] or reach out via the website.

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Company Name: Molten Materials
Contact Person: Jenny Watkins
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Country: United States