Biobased plastics research is focus of new University of Minnesota center

The University of Minnesota has launched a new Center for Sustainable Polymers aimed at developing a new generation of environment-friendly products. The team of scientists and engineers will lead cutting-edge basic research aimed at developing commercially feasible products including pressure-sensitive adhesives, toughened plastics and polyurethanes from renewable resources.

Today, nearly all polymers”materials more commonly known as plastics that are found everywhere in our world”originate from petrochemicals. Researchers participating in the Center for Sustainable Polymers will work to develop new polymeric materials that are competitive with petroleum-derived products but are made from renewable resources. They are also targeting materials that can be composted and produced in an energy efficient manner.

Researchers from the Department of Chemistry, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, and the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering are currently involved in the center activities. The center will also integrate science, technology, and public policy initiatives. The researchers will partner with industry, train students in the area of sustainable materials, and engage the public through initiatives led by the Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy within the University's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

"We are building a comprehensive center like no other in the country that is focused on working toward the goal of a sustainable polymer industry," said Marc Hillmyer, a professor of chemistry and the director of the new Center for Sustainable Polymers. "We are excited to build partnerships with companies and universities across the country to achieve this goal."

Hillmyer says biobased products are permeating the marketplace and the public wants sustainable materials that are more environmentally friendly. Hillmyer and his colleagues envision the center as a focal point for both scientific and public engagement efforts to help position the University of Minnesota as a leader in sustainable polymers.

Start-up funds for the center come from the University of Minnesota Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) large grant program aimed at helping launch early-stage, high-potential projects in emerging fields of renewable energy and the environment.

"We are grateful for IREE's commitment to our proposed work in sustainable polymers," Hillmyer said. "We will use these funds to position the center for future funding opportunities from agencies such as the National Science Foundation or Department of Energy."

For more information about the center, visit www.chem.umn.edu/csp.

May 1, 2009