A grant from Xerox Corp. will allow a New York university to extend its biodegradable resin research to look at blending hemicellulose with other plastics to develop lower-cost, wood-based biodegradable thermoplastic resins.
The College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York in Syracuse won one of 11 grants awarded for university-based research projects by the Stamford, Conn.-based company. The $20,000 grant is renewable for two additional years.
Hemicellulose is a largely unused byproduct of the process used to convert the cellulose in wood chips from woody plants to ethanol. If it can be blended with cellulose acetates or bacterial polyesters, it could create lower-cost, wood-based biodegradable resins, professor Arthur Stipanovic said.
Stipanovic is director of analytical and technical services and senior research associate of chemistry and technical services at ESF and will direct the Biodegradable Green Polymers from Renewable Resources project.
``There has been a lot of attention to making biodegradable plastic resins from corn,'' he said. ``But when you combine that with the increased use of corn for ethanol production, it has doubled the price of corn for feedstock. Wood is the place to look for bioplastics. It balances out the bioportfolio of the country so that it can also be in the Northeast and the Northwest, not just in the Corn Belt.''
ESF will concentrate on various lab-grown willow shrubs, as they accumulate biomass five to 10 times faster than hardwood trees growing in the forest and can grow to 20 feet in three years, he said. The shrubs also are a sizable feedstock, as they represent 25-35 percent of the dry weight of wood and are not used in paper production, he said.
Previous research has concentrated on using hemicellulose to make bacterial polyesters, but at this point, they are more expensive than petroleum-based plastics, he said. In addition, bacterial polyesters are thermoplastics similar to PET, but aren't suitable for most commercial applications, he said.
Stipanovic said ESP is developing pilot projects with several companies in New York that are building cellulose-based biorefineries, and a commercial product is possible within three years.
Xerox said it hopes the research project will develop lower-cost biodegradable materials that can be used for disposable consumer applications and packaging. The exterior of many of its products, as well as the components in them, are plastics made from petrochemicals.