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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Peoria, Illinois » National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research » Renewable Product Technology Research » Research » Research Project #436376

Research Project: Technologies for Producing Marketable Bioproducts

Location: Renewable Product Technology Research

2022 Annual Report

The goal of this project is to create new chemical, biochemical, and chemocatalytic processes for economically producing value-added products from biomass, particularly from plant lipids and lignocellulose. Project team members will collaborate within the project, with other ARS researchers, and external partners to reach the following objectives: Objective 1. Enable biochemical/chemical processes to convert commodity crops, crop oils, and byproducts into value-added commercial bioproducts. Objective 2. Develop innovative lipid and biopolymer-based encapsulation systems for delivering, preserving, or promoting the activity of bioactive ingredients. Objective 3. Resolve difficult catalytic processes to produce consumer products and industrial chemicals from crop residue, lignocellulosics, and biorefinery byproducts.

This research will enhance the economic viability and competitiveness of U.S. agriculture commodities by expanding domestic and global market opportunities associated with the growing bioeconomy through the development of environmentally friendly, value-added food and non-food biobased technologies and products. Plant lipids such as vegetable oil and lecithin are already available in high purity, while lignocellulose is abundant yet chemically complex. To properly exploit these valuable resources, new chemical, biochemical, and chemocatalytic processes must be developed that selectively generate higher value products. The challenge, therefore, centers on finding the most effective chemical, biochemical, and/or chemocatalytic conversion methods, optimizing process reaction conditions for effecting the desired biomass transformations, isolation and purification of the targeted bioproducts, and demonstrating that the bioproducts have equivalent or superior properties to commercially available products. We have developed several distinctive and innovative approaches to reaching our goal. Our approach involves finding and modifying (in some cases) those catalysts and processes that perform the desired biomass transformation. Biochemical/biocatalytic and chemocatalytic methods will be developed to produce select chemicals from vegetable oils and lignocellulosics. Isolated enzymes will be used to convert lipids and lipid byproducts to consumer-targeted products. Designed multi-layered phospholipids and polysaccharide-based nanoparticles will be used to enhance and deliver bioactive ingredients in food and cosmetics. The sourcing of starting materials from agricultural feedstocks and byproducts in each of these endeavors to find solutions to the barriers that exist in the creation of a biobased economy.

Progress Report
Under Objective 1, computer models used to find relationships between chemical structure and biological activity were developed and used to assess the potential antifungal activities of plant-based compounds. Two target compounds identified by the computer models were biochemically synthesized from compounds derived from corn, wheat bran and vegetable oils. The compounds are being screened against a library of fungi that produce mycotoxins, a frequent contaminate of agricultural commodities. Preliminary testing showed that these natural antifungal compounds also have insecticidal activity against fall armyworm and corn earworm pests. Two additional naturally occurring compounds were biochemically synthesized from coconut and cuphea oils and are being tested as repellents against livestock biting flies. Under Objective 2, a biodegradable encapsulation system was created from a renewable polysaccharide for preservation and delivery of bioactive compounds. A natural, water-soluble polysaccharide produced in large quantity from the cut stems of Illinois-native frost grapevine was converted to nanoparticles and utilized for encapsulation of bioactive compounds. The encapsulation system exhibited moderate stability for up to four months. Polysaccharides are readily used as thickeners and stabilizers in the food industry, and the ability to convert this polysaccharide into encapsulation systems for bioactive compounds will broaden its use for agricultural, personal care, and pharmaceutical markets, addressing consumer demand for more natural ingredients. It also has the potential as a replacement or extender for gum arabic, which is used in the food and beverage industries, and is prone to price volatility due to limited foreign supply chains. Under Objective 3, new biobased compounds with potential use as plasticizers, which are added to plastics to make them more flexible, were developed using chemical modification of seed oil isolated from Cuphea. Cuphea is under development as a new crop for marginal land in the Midwest and these plasticizers provide additional commercial markets for this crop. The new plasticizers have been blended with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics to produce films that have been tested for strength and flexibility. These compare favorably with the commercially used phthalate plasticizer and would be a naturally derived, renewably sourced plasticizer that would replace petroleum-based plasticizers. Methods were also developed to convert bio-butanol to chemicals used in plasticizers and lubricants. Butanol is produced by fermentation of crop residues. Commercially, the large-scale production of these chemicals is performed through multiple reaction steps using petroleum-based feed stocks. Bio-butanol was catalytically converted to the same chemicals in a single reaction step. Additionally, under certain operating conditions the formation of compounds suitable for use as aviation fuel was observed. This method of producing sustainable aviation fuel is under further investigation as an additional route to increase the value of bio-butanol.

1. Developed USDA Certified Biobased personal care ingredients from vegetable oils. New, economically viable, agri-based materials must be developed to sustain a bioeconomy with natural, renewable products that can replace petroleum-based products. For example, ultraviolet absorbents used in many personal care products are derived from petroleum-based products and are potentially associated with adverse environmental and health effects. ARS researchers in Peoria, Illinois, have developed biobased methods to convert vegetable oils and compounds found in all plants but particularly abundant in corn and wheat bran into products that are used in the personal care industry. The agri-based products recently earned the USDA Certified Biobased Product label, and were shown to perform equally well as their petroleum-based counterparts. The biobased products are being sold commercially as ultraviolet absorbents and antioxidants in the $60 Million (United States and European Union, 2020, projected to grow 5% annually) personal care, natural ingredients market. This research has created new, expanded market opportunities for agricultural commodities and combats climate change by reducing dependence on petroleum-based chemicals.

2. Developed biobased plasticizers for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. Petroleum-based plasticizers are added to most plastics to add the required flexibility for the intended use. PVC is the most widely used plastic with wide ranging applications such as plastic wrap, wiring insulation, automotive interiors, and plumbing pipe. The most widely used plasticizer in PVC plastics, a phthalate ester, has come under scrutiny for its potential negative health and environmental impacts. ARS researchers in Peoria, Illinois, have developed a bio-based plasticizer from Cuphea, a new crop being developed for marginal land in the Midwest. The use of this new crop enables the development of biobased industrial products without compromising opportunities to grow food on more productive land. This crop-based, sustainable plasticizer is a viable replacement for the petroleum-based phthalate ester. Plasticizers make up to 40% of PVC by weight, and the renewable agri-based plasticizer could be a very large volume industrial product. This research will create new, expanded market opportunities for agricultural commodities and combat climate change by reducing dependence on petroleum-based chemicals.

Review Publications
Appell, M.D., Compton, D.L., Bosma, W.B. 2022. Raman spectral analysis for rapid determination of zearalenone and alpha-zearalanol. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy. 270. Article 120842.
Jackson, M.A., Evans, K.O., Price, N.P.J., Blackburn, J.A., Ward, C.J., Ray, K.J., Vermillion, K. 2021. New family of surfactants from biobased materials. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. 9(41):13842-13850.
Ro, K.S., Jackson, M.A., Szogi, A.A., Compton, D.L., Moser, B.R., Berge, N.D. 2022. Sub- and near-critical hydrothermal carbonization of animal manures. Sustainability. 14(9). Article 5052.