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Biobased Products Research Wins Award for Albany Scientist / February 13, 2002 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Biobased Products Research Wins Award for Albany Scientist

By Marcia Wood
February 13, 2002

ALBANY, Calif., Feb. 13--Innovative concepts to use wheat starch and wheat and rice straw in new, environmentally friendly products have won an Early Career Research Scientist Award for Agricultural Research Service chemist William J. Orts.

Orts leads the Bioproduct Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

The Early Career Award is presented to outstanding scientists who have been with ARS for seven years or less and who have completed their highest degree within the last 10 years. Orts is winner from the agency’s Pacific West Area, which includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Winners were honored at an afternoon awards ceremony today in Beltsville, Md. Orts received a plaque, a cash award and additional funds for his research.

In collaboration with Albany colleague Gregory M. Glenn, Orts invented new formulations and processes for using wheat starch as a component of biodegradable “burger boxes.” Typically, these containers are made mostly from petroleum-derived materials. “Dr. Orts’ research demonstrated that starch from corn and rice is also excellent for making these containers,” said ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling.

In related work, Orts developed blends of starch and other components to make biodegradable cups for coffee and other hot beverages. “These blends,” said Knipling, “could effectively replace the non-renewable polystyrene traditionally used to make these foam cups.

“These starch-based alternatives to petroleum-based, plastic containers might have immense environmental benefits and create important new markets in the U.S. for wheat and other starches,” Knipling added. “The potential commercial and environmental impacts of Dr. Orts’ research are readily apparent when one considers that nearly 20 billion pounds of disposable plastic containers, made from petroleum-based polymers, are discarded each year in this country.”

In addition, Orts showed that a combination of crop-derived chemicals could be used--in place of petroleum-based polymers--to help control soil erosion. His biobased mixture, when added to irrigation water, can help keep soil particles in place and reduce erosion that might otherwise occur when water travels down furrows. “These biopolymers provide effective, biodegradable alternatives to polyacrylamide, the current industry standard for reducing irrigation- induced erosion,” said Knipling.

“Besides his impressive research accomplishments,” Knipling said, “Dr. Orts has played a key role in mentoring high school students who are interested in scientific careers.”

Orts received his bachelor of science in chemical engineering from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada in 1984; and his master of science in biochemistry in 1986 and his doctorate in chemistry in 1991, both from the University of Toronto.

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Last Modified: 2/20/2002
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