While working at Ceramatec, Chett Boxley came up with the Purr-fect Solution for kitty litter.

Boxley was a researcher for the Salt Lake City-based materials company when he was studying the possible uses for fly ash, the byproduct that comes from coal-fired power plants. He learned that the ash could make an excellent kitty litter that has the same properties as clay-based litter but is mostly made of recycled material.

So Boxley created Purr-fect Solutions in 2012, which produced this unique brand of litter. The scientist and entrepreneur talked about the ups and downs of starting companies during the keynote talk at this year’s “Meet an Inventor Night” event, which was held Thursday, Feb. 25, in the Catmull Gallery of the Warnock Engineering Building. The annual event invites high school students to the University of Utah to learn about the accomplishments that local engineers have made with their research and inventions. “Meet an Inventor Night” this year also was part of “Engineers Week,” a weeklong series of national events that celebrate the work of engineers.

Boxley’s research revealed that fly ash, the waste created from coal combustion, is made up of much of the same components that clay has — namely silicon oxide, aluminum oxide, and iron oxide. Clay is the key ingredient for a vast majority of kitty litter, he said.

“The material looks like clay, feels like clay, and your cat thinks it’s clay, but it’s made of nearly 100 percent recycled materials,” he said. “Like regular litter, it naturally clumps and swells and has odor-control properties.”

His kitty litter is not the only green product Boxley’s worked on. He now heads a new company that produces environmentally-safe sugar-based chemicals for cosmetics and personal-care products such as shampoo.

Boxley, who graduated with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Utah and guest lectures at the U’s material sciences and engineering classes, has spent his whole career working on creating better products from recycled or environmentally-safe materials because he believes it’s the responsible thing to do.
“We clearly like to focus on things that leave the planet in a better place and tackle the big issues involving environmental standards,” he said. “Making things green is good.”

In addition to Boxley’s keynote address, “Meet an Inventor Night” also included breakout sessions with university engineering faculty, students and alumni who talked about their work, including one student who is manufacturing and selling his own brand of ski pole.

Meanwhile, other Utah events for “Engineers Week” (Monday, Feb. 22, through Friday, Feb. 26) were held at Hill Air Force Base in Davis County. They included student engineering demonstrations from the U, Brigham Young University, Weber State University and Utah State University. Students from the University of Utah’s Chem-E-Car team as well as the Utah Robotic Mining Project delivered presentations during the week.