logo

Iowa State University expanding bio-container research

By: Frank Antosiewicz

May 8, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (May 8, 1:15 p.m. ET) — After displaying its bio-based plant containers at NPE2012 in Orlando, Iowa State University biopolymers and biocomposites researchers returned home to make up another 6,000 pots for beta testing this summer.

“We shipped them to 10 different vendors for beta testing,” said David Grewell, head of the research team and an associate professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.

The small containers, produced from natural proteins, carbohydrates, oils and low-cost natural fibers, can be used to replace petroleum-based containers and will degrade harmlessly when planted in a garden, he said. One other advantage is that the protein-based containers also fertilize the soil as they degrade. 

Mike Kessler, an associate professor of material science and engineering, is leading the project that uses lignin, a byproduct of the wood-pulping process. His group is chemically modifying and blending the lignin with biopolymers such as polylactic acid resin.

The material is being developed for wind energy, but has potential in other industries, such as automotive, where stronger and lighter parts are needed for weight reduction.

Iowa State’s research group also is working on a “polymers environmental calculator,” a Web-based application to help determine the economic viability of bioplastics. The app should be ready June 1, Grewell said. The group also is putting together a video to illustrate how to use the program. The video is aimed at resin producers, manufacturers and end users.

The calculator will allow users to compare processing costs, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to find a plastic that minimizes costs and environmental impact. It will look at the direct costs of 12 common petroleum and bio-based plastics and allow for data from other plastics.

The team is partnering with Clinton, Mass.-based manufacturer Nypro Inc. and M-Base Engineering + Software GmbH, an Aachen, Germany-based data management software company, to make the application available to the plastics industry.

Related workshops

Iowa State University in Ames is hosting a biopolymers and biocomposites workshop Aug. 14 to help researchers and industry representatives develop products made from biomass.

The workshop will focus on formulating protein-based poly­­mers, vegetable oil polymers, adhesives, composites and poly­esters through fermentation. It will also cover processing technologies such as injection molding, extrusion, compression molding and casting.

The day will conclude with  tours of Iowa State’s bioscience and manufacturing facilities, including a polymer-characterization labora­tory and a technology-transfer pilot plant.

The workshop is part of three days of events at Iowa State. A workshop on plastics manufacturing technical resources will be held Aug. 13, while on Aug. 15, a conference is scheduled on bioplastic container systems for crops.