“Plastics… There’s a great future in plastics.” That line from the 1967 movie The Graduate could be revised to say that the future is now in bioplastics.
Washington State University, in collaboration with Iowa State University, is establishing the first industry and university cooperative research center devoted to the development of biologically based plastics.
“The field of plastics is not new, but making them from renewable materials rather than from petroleum is a growing area of interest in research and in industry,” said Michael Kessler, Berry Family Professor and center co-director.
“There are advantages of bioplastics from an environmental, economic, and even performance standpoint, and the field is growing exponentially,” he said. “I am confident that this center will address many of the critical issues in biobased polymers and composites and will lead to a more sustainable future.”
NSF grant funds center
With support from a National Science Foundation grant, the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites will work with industry and university partners to increase the use of biologically based, sustainable materials in the marketplace.
The five-year award creates a cooperative research center that brings together partners to conduct research that is particularly relevant for industry and has a high potential for commercialization. There are about 60 such research centers in the United States, including another at WSU that is focused on the design of integrated circuits. Industry partners also provide support for the center.
Research in the new center will be focused in the areas of synthesis and compounding of bioplastics and biocomposites, biobased products, processing, medical applications, and computer modeling of processing techniques.
WSU experienced with composite materials
WSU has a long history in advanced composite materials research. WSU’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center (cmec.wsu.edu) has numerous patents on inventions in areas such as nondestructive evaluation of wood materials, wood-plastic composites, and composite materials processing.
More than 40 percent of the $1 billion wood-plastic industry in North America uses material formulations developed at WSU. WSU researchers also lead a $40 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that aims to improve the possibility of an aviation biofuels industry from renewable forest materials.
In addition to 17 faculty members from WSU, the center includes researchers from ISU as well as over 25 industry partners including 3M, Boeing, ADM, Hyundai Motor Group, Ford, Solvay, and Eco Products. The researchers will also collaborate with colleagues from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.