Sky-high solution

With sights set sky high on streamlining coating for the aerospace industry, UW startup PolyDrop developed an additive that’s grabbed the attention of Boeing — and they’re just getting started.

Together we will

When Volha Hrechka, ’13, left her home country of Belarus on an exchange program in 2004, she had no idea she’d one day be revolutionizing the plastics industry. Today her startup PolyDrop is responsible for creating an innovative additive that dissipates electrostatic charge on airplanes one drop at a time — and it all started in the halls of the UW.

PolyDrop is the result of Volha’s chemical engineering senior design capstone project, where she worked with four other students on an additive inspired by Boeing.

The Seattle-area aircraft manufacturer was looking to cut weight and reduce CO2 emissions in an effort to save money and better the environment, and the PolyDrop team knew achieving those goals while dissipating electrostatic charge would be a problem with the new 787 Dreamliner. If the electrostatic charge isn’t dissipated, it could interfere with flight communications, or worse, cause a spark that could potentially lead to fire.

The solution? An energy-conductive polymer additive that can be dropped into original coatings such as paint and adds only .25 percent additional weight — a drastic change from the current solution. And less weight means less fuel, which isn’t only expensive, but harmful to the environment.

The PolyDrop Process: PolyDrop’s energy-conductive polymer additive is dropped into paint, which is then applied to the body of the airplane to dissipate electrostatic charge

PolyDrop process: The energy-conductive polymer additive is dropped into paint, which is then applied to the body of the airplane to dissipate electrostatic charge.


Electrostatic charge: A stationary electric charge built up on a material

Polymer: A substance (such as plastic) made up of many monomers, or small molecules

Capacitor: A device used to store an electric charge that contains two electrical conductors (such as metal plates) separated by an insulator (such as plastic)

Current solution: Copper mesh + carbon fiber composite

Copper mesh: A mesh made of copper, which is an energy-conductive metal
Carbon fiber composite: A strong, lightweight material made from carbon fiber and various additional materials

Boeing will be testing PolyDrop’s innovation in a variety of climates and if everything goes well, the aerospace giant could be ordering PolyDrop-infused paint from manufacturers in one to two years. In the meantime, the PolyDrop team, which is comprised of Volha, co-founder Greg Newbloom, and a handful of lab technicians, interns, advisors and business aids, is reaching for lower-hanging fruit — low volume but high performance applications, such as capacitors.

None of this would have been possible without the help of the UW, says Volha. “Countless times I’ve asked for help and it was always provided to me. I’m so thankful.”
Volha in lab

Profile: Volha Hrechka

  • Volha came to the states from her homeland of Belarus on an exchange program. Her first job? A housekeeper in a Hilton hotel in Orlando, Florida, where she split her time between cleaning rooms and learning English.
  • Volha graduated with five job offers, but her C4C fellowship allowed her to continue PolyDrop post-graduation and helped lead to the startup’s success.
  • Volha receives her citizenship this year, and while her sights are set on PolyDrop for the foreseeable future, she plans to return to Europe one day. She also hopes to earn her MBA from the UW.
  • Volha is a self-proclaimed Groupon junkie. Skydiving, glassblowing, paddle boarding, outdoor elliptical biking — you name it, she’s done it. Volha is also an avid marathon runner and tennis player and practices hot yoga.

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