Improving rural economies through New Uses of Agriculturally-based Materials
ARS research enhances the economic viability and competitiveness of U.S. agriculture by improving the quality and marketability of harvested foods and agricultural feedstocks to meet consumer needs while developing environmentally friendly and efficient processing concepts. The following FY 2020 accomplishments illustrate how ARS researchers achieve this by using agricultural products or byproducts to develop new, innovative, and environmentally friendly products and technologies.
Improved packaging film made from renewable, inexpensive cotton waste materials. There is increasing concern about the environmental impact of nondegradable plastics accumulating in landfills and the oceans. One solution is to replace some of these fossil-fuel based nondegradable plastics with water-soluble, biodegradable plastics. Poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVOH), derived from plant sources, is water-soluble and biodegradable and the perfect candidate for this replacement. ARS scientists in Peoria, IL, discovered that when PVOH is blended with cotton gin trash (CGT, a waste material left over after cotton processing), it resulted in a low-cost biodegradable composite that is applicable for making composite films or plastics. When CGT is chemically modified, properties of the blended films were further improved for diverse applications. Using CGT in a higher-value product, like biodegradable plastics, increases the value of U.S. cotton coproducts, which benefits U.S. cotton farmers and helps mitigate plastic pollution.
Improved antifogging agent derived from wheat, soybean, or milk protein. Antifogging agents are chemicals that prevent the condensation of water in the form of small droplets on a surface. Without antifogging treatment, condensed water forms fog-like droplets on the surface of glass or plastics and scatters light, causing low visibility. ARS scientists in Peoria, IL, have improved on a previously patented ARS invention to produce protein nanoparticles that outperform commercial antifog solutions. These biodegradable nanoparticles are made using proteins (from wheat, soybean, or milk) combined with a petroleum-based material. Any surface that may have water fogging or beading on it will benefit. This includes surfaces such as windows on cars, boats, homes, and buildings. In addition, eyewear, such as eyeglasses, and medical and swim googles, will also benefit. End consumers will benefit, and depending on the protein used, so will farmers and stakeholders in the wheat, soybean, and milk value chains.
High-value applications of corn stover. Cellulose is the substance that is responsible for a plant’s strength. If cellulose is reduced to a nano scale (one billionth of a meter) it is called nanocellulose (NC). NC produced from corn stover was developed by ARS scientists in Peoria, IL. NC has been shown to provide value in many end uses and products, including polymer blends, medical devices, cosmetics, and waste treatment. In all these applications, the NC must be pumped from one location to the next. For the full value of corn stover NC to be realized, its flow properties must be understood. The scientists used state-of-the-art techniques to determine the flow properties of NC suspensions, which will allow for the production of improved NC-based products. Corn producers and processors will benefit from developing a high-value use from what is normally left over on the corn field.
New analytical techniques to characterize silver nanoparticle-treated textiles. Silver nanoparticles are added to clothing for their powerful ability to kill bacteria and fungi and the odors they cause. To develop safe and reliable nanoparticle-enhanced products, it is essential to have proper analytical techniques that evaluate the resulting technologies and products. However, currently available techniques are complicated, destructive, expensive, and time consuming. ARS researchers in New Orleans, LA, developed two simple, cost-effective, fast, and accurate surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopic methods to quantify silver nanoparticles. The first method, which uses plasmonic hot spots of aggregated nanoparticles, measures silver nanoparticles in a (washing) solution. The second method, which uses a dye to generate a distinctive Raman signal, measures silver nanoparticles in a solid (textile) material. These methods are extremely sensitive, accurate, and better than conventional methods in distinguishing silver nanoparticles from other silver species and mapping the distribution of nanoparticles in textiles. ARS researchers verified the uniformity of the developed silver nanoparticle-embedded cottons and their washing durability. The first method was supported by the ARS Innovation Fund and the National Science Foundation, and its novelty was highlighted as a featured article on the front cover of the journal Analytical Methods.