Plant-based composites could replace petroleum productsby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Fargo, N.D. — Researchers at North Dakota State University say they've developed a way to make high quality paints and coatings from soy oil and sugar.
Most paints, coatings and glues are petroleum based, but there is great interest to develop plant-based products that are environmentally friendly. The worldwide market for biorenewable chemicals will reach $5 billion by 2015, says one industry estimate.
Efforts to develop plant-based alternatives and replacements have sometimes resulted in products that don't last or wear as well as their common counterparts.
North Dakota State researcher Dean Webster has been working on a solution since 2008, and he says a breakthrough in his lab created a soy and sugar based coating that's just as tough as petro chemical paints.
The base product looks like thickened cooking oil in a jug. It's sprayed or poured and then cured with heat or ultraviolet light.
Webster shows off what looks like sheet of plastic material, flexing it in his hands.
"This is a sample of a cured material. This is probably about 75 percent biobased and we're not aware of any biobased material that comes close to that stiffness."
Webster said his research is very basic chemistry. His team tried mixing hundreds of different chemical compounds with sugar and soy oil. The reactions make molecules bond together in different ways. It's called crosslinking and the result is a rigid but flexible material.
"We were really very much surprised when we started doing tensile testing, where we check the stiffness of the materials and found out just how strong these materials were that we were making," Webster said. "We weren't expecting the properties to be that good."
So far, testing shows the material is as tough as the paint on your car, Webster said. Further testing is needed to see how the material stands up to long-term exposure to the elements. Researchers will now turn their attention to developing the biobased material for specific commercial applications.
The material could be used in paints, plastics and glues. NDSU has applied for patents on the material, and Webster said many companies have requested samples of the material to evaluate. Webster said the material has drawn interest from large companies that want high quality products that are also environmentally safe.
"People don't want to go green and give up any performance. That's been the drawback with a lot of approaches," Webster said. "We think one of the big advantages we have is we're getting that same level of performance."
- Morning Edition, 08/16/2011, 6:50 a.m.