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Staff Accomplishments

Technology license could help reduce plastic manufacturers' dependence on foreign oil

July 2005
The Iowa Corn Promotion Board has signed its first commercial license with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to produce a new plastic additive made from corn that will reduce manufacturers' need for expensive foreign oil, one of the raw materials used in manufacturing plastic. The license allows for the technology developed by PNNL to be used for commercial purposes. Researchers at PNNL have discovered an innovative way to turn sorbitol from corn into isosorbide, a plastic additive. Isosorbide makes plastic, such as that used to make water bottles, stronger and more rigid. The United States produces approximately 10.2 billion bushels of corn. Approximately 1.7 billion bushels are purchased by the wet milling industry to be processed into value-added chemicals such as sorbitol and ethanol. "The use of renewable corn derived isosorbide will reduce the amount of petroleum necessary to make plastics," said Product Offering Manager for Bioproducts Todd Werpy. "Incorporating isosorbide into plastic will improve the properties of the plastic and reduce our dependence on foreign oil." Preliminary cost estimates show that isosorbide from this technology is competitive with petroleum-based building blocks used to make plastics and is not subject to the wild price fluctuations of oil prices. Such price stability would be a boon to the plastic industry, where product costs increase as the cost of foreign oil increases. Commercializing this product provides benefits to the corn grower, as well. "The grower will benefit by creating new uses for corn and new jobs for rural economies. Isosorbide could consume another 30 to 40 million bushels of corn annually," said ICPB Director of Research and Regulatory Affairs Rod Williamson. Researchers at PNNL have been working with entities such as the National Corn Growers Association, and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board to research new processes and catalysis to create value-added chemicals from corn and other agricultural products. For more information, contact: Kelvin Soldat, Environment, Safety and Health Systems product line manager.

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