National news release
Biobased Products Research Wins Award for
Albany Scientist By
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
Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit at the
ARS Western Regional Research Center in
Albany, Calif. ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures 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 agencys
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
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
Orts received his bachelor of science in chemical engineering
from Queens 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.