Workshop Focuses on New Biobased Products and Technology

James Schrader shows attendees biobased plant containers.
James Schrader, assistant scientist in horticulture and Biopolymers & Biocomposites Research Team (BBRT) member, discusses the biobased plant containers developed by BBRT to a couple of attendees.

New biobased products and processing techniques were the focus of the Biopolymers & Biocomposites Workshop held August 14 at Iowa State University.

The workshop brought together 79 participants from industry and academia interested in developing and using biobased plastics and composites. It addressed a wide range of topics including material selection, developing new polymers and composites, designing with bioplastics, and the use of bioplastics in industrial applications.

David Grewell, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and organizer of the event, said there were several collaborative projects initiated because of the interaction between industry and academia at the workshop. "These projects will promote the acceptance and use of bioplastics, helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of these new materials," he said.

Steve Severtson, professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota, gave the first keynote address on the development of renewable and biodegradable monomers for adhesive materials. Severtson explained his group's current interest is to incorporate renewable biomass into existing commercial design without sacrificing performance or increasing costs. They have developed films that are crystal clear and perform as well as commercial products.

Chad Ulven
Keynote speaker Chad Ulven, associate professor at North Dakota State University, explains the biocomposites research conducted by his research team.

Another keynote speaker was Chad Ulven, associate professor of mechanical engineering at North Dakota State University. He discussed his research on designing natural fiber filled thermoplastics and long natural fiber reinforced thermosetting resins for use in a wide range of applications. Ulven also highlighted a few projects where his biocomposite materials were being tested in real world industrial applications.

Other speakers from academia included Tim Osswald, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who discussed the behavior of different natural fiber reinforced composites during injection molding; Rudy Pruszko, field specialist for the Center for Industrial Research and Service at Iowa State, who spoke on the USDA BioPreferred Program, marketing biobased products and how to obtain a USDA Certified Label; Yadagiri Poojari, senior researcher in chemistry from The Ohio State University, who discussed research on a biocompatible conducting polymer; and Rafael Quirino, former Iowa State Ph.D. student and now assistant professor of chemistry at Georgia Southern University, discussed the natural oil-based thermosets and composites developed at Iowa State.

Speakers from companies included Erwin Baur, president of M-Base Engineering + Software GmbH, who discussed the need for information about processing and end-use properties for biopolymers and natural fiber reinforced plastics in order for them to succeed in high volume applications; Robert Whitehouse, senior customer applications development manager from Metabolix, Inc., reviewed the properties and biodegradation for polyhydroxyalkanaote polymers; and Richard Bopp, senior materials scientist from NatureWorks LLC, discussed the commercialization of NatureWorks Ingeo polylactide biopolymer.

As part of the workshop, attendees were able to get a close-up look at biocomposites and biopolymers research happening at Iowa State by touring two research facilities. The first facility was the Polymer Characterization Lab where they learned how polymer and composite materials are evaluated using thermal analysis and mechanical characterization techniques. Attendees also toured the Center for Crops Utilization Research (CCUR) Technology Transfer Pilot Plant and saw a number of plastic and composite samples made from corn and soy protein including biobased plant containers and ground covering for erosion control.

Student explaining research during poster session.
Gauri Ramasubramanian, graduate student in materials science and engineering (left), discusses her research to workshop attendees during the poster session.

The Biopolymers and Biocomposites Research Team, chaired by Grewell, hosted the workshop. Funding was provided by CCUR , College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Institute for Physical Research and Technology, and Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Check out the presentations and poster abstracts from the Biopolymers & Biocomposites Workshop.