Location: Bioproducts Research2016 Annual Report
The demand for agricultural feedstocks is growing as global demand for food is ever increasing and efforts mount to create alternatives to petroleum products that feed global warming. The goal of this project plan is to use biopolymers to develop sustainable technologies and bioproducts that will benefit the U.S. and that will not negatively impact food reserves. This plan highlights the use of nonfood fibers and crop waste to create new bioproducts and help improve the efficiency in utilizing agricultural commodities via the following objectives: Objective 1: Enable, from a technological standpoint, new commercial value-added biobased materials. a. Utilize conventional and novel processing technologies to produce and characterize nanofibers from biopolymers and investigate potential applications. b.Utilize biopolymers to encapsulate/deliver beneficial soil microbes that improve crop production. Objective 2: Enable new commercial materials based on biopolymers and biobased fillers. a. Develop fiber-reinforced composite materials. b. Develop value-added bioproducts from torrefied crop waste. c. Develop value-added bioproducts from almond, grape and citrus waste.
The overarching approach will be to provide data, technology and prototypes that will not only result in novel bioproducts but also address important agricultural needs including the need for higher crop production, the need for more sustainable farming practices, the need for alternatives to petroleum-based products and the need for new innovations such as nanotechnology. The first approach is development of composite materials that encapsulate beneficial microbes to be used to reduce the inputs of conventional fertilizers and petroleum-based pesticides. A co-development as part of this approach is production of humic acid from renewable resources such as torrefied crop waste to augment soil health. Humates will be used as soil amendments to improve soil fertility and crop production. Also, nanofibers from aqueous solutions of biopolymers will be made and characterized by developing new processes to make nanofibers from a wide array of biopolymers. Bioproducts made using the nanofibers will include controlled-release devices and sensors. Objective 2 is aimed at developing bioproducts from nonfood agricultural products, namely plant fibers and crop waste. The group will apply expertise in dispersing plant fibers in biopolymer matrices and in inorganic binders. The anticipated bioproducts developed in Objective 2a include compression molded food service products containing more than 60% fiber using biopolymers as binders. We will also create lightweight rigid foam products by dispersing plant fibers in inorganic binders including Portland cement and gypsum. California has one of the most diverse agricultural industries in the world and ranks first in production in terms of cash receipts ($43 billion), but also leads in the output of crop waste and residues. Diverse agricultural byproducts such as almond hulls, grape pomace, citrus peel waste, etc., which are concentrated at processing plants and often carry a cost for disposal, will be converted into higher value products. Objectives 2b, and 2c specifically address this need. The anticipated products include black filler for PET plastics and pelletized coal dust made using inexpensive biopolymer binders such as citrus waste and gums from almond hulls. Other bioproducts include essential oils and antioxidants extracted from seeds processed from grape pomace.
Objective 1a: Utilize conventional and novel processing technologies to produce and characterize nanofibers from biopolymers and investigate potential applications. Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) was obtained from the Mango Materials group with whom a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) is established. Mango Materials is focused on developing PHBs from microbes using methane as a feedstock. PHB was also obtained from commercial sources for comparison. Nanofibers were made from the different sources of PHB using chloroform as a solvent for making polymer solutions. The fiber spinning method was by Solution Blow Spinning (SBS) which is a nanofiber spinning technology developed in our laboratory in collaboration with Brazilian scientists. The nanofibers were collected on a high-speed collector to determine whether a beta-crystalline form of PHB nanofibers could be made using the high-speed collector as reported for electrospun PHB nanofibers. The results show that PHB nanofibers in the range of 100 nanometers can be made by SBS using a polymer concentration of 5%. However, the high-speed collector did not increase the beta-crystallinity of the PHB as reported for electrospinning. A study was also completed wherein nanofibers were made from poly (lactic acid) PLA dissolved in dimethyl carbonate. The PLA concentration was optimal at 8% and the fibers ranged from 105 to 159 nanometers in diameter. The crystallinity of the fibers was compared to that of PLA films made by a solution casting method. The results showed that the films had a greater crystallinity (39%) compared to the nanofibers (17%) which impacted their thermal stability. The films that had the higher degree of crystallinity were also more thermally stable compared to the nanofibers with the lower degree of crystallinity. A license agreement for rights to use the patented SBS technology developed in our laboratory is currently being negotiated with the National Children’s Hospital located in the Washington, D.C. area. Objective 1b: Utilize biopolymers to encapsulate/deliver beneficial soil microbes that improve crop production. Beneficial soil micro-organisms were obtained from our CRADA partner, Flozyme Corporation Inc. and encapsulated in a starch-gypsum matrix. The starch-gypsum matrix is a patented technology developed in our laboratory. Tests were conducted to demonstrate that beneficial soil bacteria could be successfully encapsulated in the starch-gypsum matrix while maintaining microbe viability. Licenses have been granted to both Flozyme Corporation, Inc. and L.H. Organics. Field trials were conducted using the encapsulated microbes on tomato, onion, and strawberry fields in California. The study will conclude by the end of the summer and final results will be summarized. Objective 2a: Develop fiber-reinforced composite materials. A study was conducted in collaboration with our Brazilian colleagues from Embrapa located in Fortaleza, Brazil. Composite materials were made from polypropylene and fiber from cashew and carnauba. The effect of maleic anhydride treatments were also investigated. The composites were aged both thermally and in a weathering chamber to determine the performance and stability properties of the composites. The biodegradability of the fiber-reinforced composites was tested by respirometry. The study will be completed by the end of the summer and the results will be analyzed to determine the potential value of such fiber reinforced composites for commercial applications. Objective 2b: Develop value-added bioproducts from torrefied crop waste. We are continuing the work on almonds and torrefaction. Torrefied almond hulls have been milled and tested as a black filler and replacement for carbon black in polypropylene composites. Funding is being pursued from the Almond Board to investigate the potential for using torrefied almond waste as a filler for horticultural containers and for rubber tires. The use of torrefaction equipment to prepare biochar and biocoal from almond waste is also being investigated.
1. Beneficial soil microbe isolated. Phosphorous is an important crop nutrient that can become chemically fixed in the soil making it unavailable to plants. ARS scientists in Albany, California, isolated a strain of bacteria found naturally in soil that can release chemically bound phosphorous and make it available for plant growth. Greenhouse studies showed that plants innoculated with the bacteria had much better growth compared to other plants that were grown without the bacteria in soils containing fixed phosphorous. The use of beneficial soil microbes could reduce the amount of phosphorous fertilizers needed for crops and reduce the problem of fertilizer runoff from fields into waterways.
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Wang, B., Khir, R., Pan, Z., El-Mashad, H., Wood, D.F., Mahoney, N.E., Wu, B., Ma, H., Xingrong, L. 2015. Simultaneous drying and decontamination of rough rice using combined pulsed light and holding treatment. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96(8):2874–2881. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.7458.