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Modification of Natural Polymers by Novel Processes
In order to accomplish this, modified biopolymers with new or improved properties need to be prepared and processing technologies which are more efficient, i.e. use safer or less solvent, are faster, have more complete reaction and fewer byproducts need to be developed.
Specific objectives for this project include: 1) prepare novel spherulitic starch-polymer composites via jet-cooking; 2) prepare starch graft copolymers with controlled structure by reactive extrusion and evaluate applications; 3) prepare modified starches, celluloses and lignins with novel structures via processing with ionic liquids, microwaves and autoclave heating; and 4) prepare new starch and lignin graft copolymers as well as polyglutamic acid and polyhydroxyalkanoates by enzymatic and microbial catalysis.
Overall, this research will lead to biobased polymer products which will have new or improved properties, have lower cost, are more environmentally friendly and thus will be more acceptable to consumer markets.
Markets for petroleum-based polymers now exceed 110 billion pounds per year (4) or $80 billion in the U.S. alone. Of that, the market for water soluble and swellable polymers is over $3 billion/year in the U.S. and $10 billion worldwide (5). Typical petroleum based polymers with which modified starches and PGA could compete includes polyacrylates, polyacrylamide, and polyvinyl alcohol. Markets for plastics used for packaging in the U.S. are currently about $20 billion/year. Microbial PHA's and polymer composites with starch microparticles or lignocellulose microfibrils could substitute for polystyrene or polyolefins. Fiber filled polyolefins are now used extensively for auto body parts and corn-derived lignocellulose microfibrils could compete in that market as well. Markets for adhesives amount to over $8 billion/year in the U.S. and over $21 billion worldwide.
Due to increased restrictions on petroleum based solvents, demand for water dispersible adhesives and coatings is growing rapidly. Likewise, concern about formaldehyde use in wood adhesives is growing. Starch and lignin based materials would be well suited for these markets if more efficient production methods were devised and properties improved.
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