The Plant Polymer Research Unit conducts research to identify and develop enabling technologies to expand markets for agricultural commodities. Biobased materials create new market opportunities for coproducts of biofuels production and have reduced environmental footprints compared to products from non-renewable feedstocks. Research emphasis is on chemical or enzymatic modification of polysaccharides and proteins, bio-based materials, and structure-property relationships of the modified materials. Natural polymers are processed by various thermomechanical methods, including extrusion, jet cooking, ionic liquids, and microwave heating. Additives and/or chemical reagents are incorporated to modify the properties of natural polymers to provide functional materials for end-use applications. Chemical, physical, biological, and spectroscopic techniques are used to characterize the structure/property relationships of the modified polymers, and provide a fundamental understanding of how processing variables affect properties. Molecular modeling and simulation are used to construct and analyze model systems, with the goal of providing a knowledge-based approach to designing novel materials. Specific applications include water-resistant starch-based foams, starch and protein based biodegradable films and membranes, biofiller reinforced composites, adhesives, and absorbent materials.