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ISU to lead new center for bioplastics, biocomposites

By Staff | Jan 12, 2015

-Contributed photo IOWA STATE STUDENTS, Mitchel Michel, left, and TyJamin Roark, both in chemical engineering, extrude soy flour and polylactic acid, a biodegradable plastic from cornstarch into pellets for use in injection molding.

AMES (ISU) – The Iowa Board of Regents approved on Dec. 3, the National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites.

The center’s research will develop knowledge about the production of an array of high-value products, including plastics, coatings, adhesives and composites, from agricultural and forestry feedstocks.

A partnership among universities, industry and government, the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, or CB2, will be led by Iowa State University and funded through industry and NSF support.

David Grewell, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and director of ISU’s biopolymers and biocomposites research team, is the center’s director.

“The center’s research will cover the complex and diverse aspects of establishing and promoting the use of renewable materials including feedstock logistics, material synthesis and compounding, product design and customer acceptance, life cycle assessment, and end-of-life treatment,” said Grewell.

Each of the center’s partner universities has a site director who will be responsible for administration of research, budget, outreach and related activities at their institution.

Michael Kessler, professor and director of the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University, is WSU’s site director.

Seventeen faculty and staff members at WSU are part of CB2, many of whom are part of the longstanding Composite Materials and Engineering Center, which has developed new polymer and composite building materials from a range of recycled and virgin resources, resulting in numerous patents and inventions.

At ISU, Grewell and the research team, a unit of the Center for Crops Utilization Research since 1995, conceived the idea of the CB2, which will be housed in and supported by the Center for Crops Utilization Research.

Drewell said the new center’s work will lead to the creation of biorenewable products that can eventually replace millions of tons of petroleum-based products.

They foresee the creation of new jobs – a green-collar workforce – as technology continues to be transferred to industry.

The team’s 26 faculty members, scientists and graduate students have established large-scale feedstock facilities, equipment for chemical and thermal analysis, polymer processing machines, fermentation laboratories (from bench- to pilot-scale), carbon-dating equipment and facilities for testing commercial composting.

Grewell said ISu and WSU are in ideal positions to develop and operate a bioplastics and biocomposites center.

“Iowa State is an established leader in the area of biobased products and Washington State has a strong history of research and inventions in natural fiber polymer composites,” he said. “By bringing together their expertise, the center will be able to successfully transfer their ideas, results and technology to U.S. industries.”

CB2 industry members currently number 23. They include 3M Co., Archer Daniels Midland Co., Boeing Co., Ford Motor Co., Newell Rubbermaid, Berry Plastics Corp. and Hyundai America Technical Center Inc.

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