Transforming a by-product into a new product

ScienceDirect helps a researcher achieve success in putting a waste product to good use

Lana Tolmach, Director of Research at a chemical innovation company, wanted to make useful products out of waste products. ScienceDirect helped her team break out of a long-term dead end in their research and develop a commercially successful product in a fraction of the time they expected.

Transforming a by-product into a new product - ScienceDirect | Elsevier


A team of researchers at a chemical innovation company sought to transform a common waste product — a clay-like separation byproduct of the coal-cleaning process — into a useful additive for crop soils. But after years of intensive data-gathering from test crops, the team was still having difficulty finding meaningful correlations between potting mix variations using their additive and crop performance. They decided it was time to look through the literature and find out how other labs were approaching this.


The team turned to ScienceDirect and began casting a broad net of search terms related to coal, the mineral and the soil, and then steadily narrowed its focus around several of the most important component minerals in their potting mix — until suddenly, a technician hit on a paper that transformed the entire project.

One of our technicians found a paper from Korea, which we’d never have found if it hadn’t been for ScienceDirect, Tolmach recalls. That paper had relevant data on growing tomatoes in a potting mix with a product very similar to ours. We went straight into the lab and started creating a cleaner, crisper design experiment for a new potting mix based on the design in the paper. Over the next six months, the team grew new crops of tomatoes in a mixture modified from the one they’d found on ScienceDirect.

Lana Tolmach quote - ScienceDirect | Elsevier

Finding that paper on ScienceDirect pushed our research further in three months than we’d moved in years.

Lana Tolmach, R&D Director


With the help of ScienceDirect, not only did this company reach its original goal to show value for waste products, it also created a commercially successful application, with a plan for more applications to be developed in the next two years. In addition, the research team is authoring a paper in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and her company expects a sales volume of the additive of at least 50 million pounds within the first year on the market.

Lana Tolmach quote 2 - ScienceDirect | Elsevier

The research we found on ScienceDirect gave us the key to massively improving the quality of a product that’s already on the market in a fraction of the time we’d expected.

Lana Tolmach, R&D Director

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