Tomonori Saito, a distinguished innovator in the field of polymer science and senior R&D staff member at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was honored as ORNL Inventor of the Year on May 11 in Columbus, Ohio, at Battelle’s Celebration of Solvers.
The annual celebration recognizes inventors from Battelle and the national labs it manages, including Brookhaven National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Saito was recognized for research offering “solutions for important applications including plastic recycling, self-healing materials, additive manufacturing, building materials, and polymer electrolytes for energy storage devices.” He was lauded for “particularly notable inventions in polymer upcycling, which address the global challenge of plastic circularity.”
“Tomonori is a world-class synthetic polymer chemist and expert in soft matter,” said Cynthia Jenks, ORNL associate laboratory director for physical sciences. “With prolific inventiveness, Tomonori’s work has significantly impacted various energy technologies and manufacturing processes, and is enabling plastic circularity. His work is epitomizes the translational research we do here at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.”
Saito’s ORNL projects have advanced polymers for several applications, including polymer upcycling, additive manufacturing, ion-conducting polymers for energy storage devices such as fuel cells and batteries, thermal insulating building materials, gas separations membranes and metal-ion adsorbents. One project developed super-stretchy polymers with self-healing abilities for functional films, membranes, coatings and devices with prolonged lifetimes. Another designed a polymer to bind and strengthen silica sand for binder jet additive manufacturing to produce industrial prototypes and parts. Yet another upcycled a common household plastic to create a tough, recyclable adhesive. And another designed recyclable carbon-fiber composites to increase energy efficiency in automotive, wind-power and aerospace applications.
Saito holds 12 issued patents; several have been licensed. More than 10 patents are pending. His research has won numerous awards. He won R&D 100 awards — nicknamed “the Oscars of invention” — in 2012, 2016, 2019 and 2021. He has authored more than 120 peer-reviewed publications.
Before coming to ORNL in 2010 as a postdoctoral fellow in the Materials Science and Technology Division and joining the Chemical Sciences Division in 2012, Saito was a postdoctoral fellow at Penn State. He earned his doctorate from Virginia Tech and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Waseda University in Japan.
UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science. — Dawn Levy