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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Peoria, Illinois » National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research » Plant Polymer Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #355251

Research Project: Conversion of Polysaccharides and Other Bio-based Materials to High-Value, Commercial Products

Location: Plant Polymer Research

Title: Public-private partnership is a win-win

item Finkenstadt, Victoria

Submitted to:
Publication Type: Trade Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/28/2018
Publication Date: 8/1/2018
Citation: Finkenstadt, V.L. 2018. Public-private partnership is a win-win situation. Peoria Magines InterBusiness Issues(iBi).

Interpretive Summary: N/A

Technical Abstract: Illinois Valley Plastics (IVP) and the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (Ag Lab) have been partners for several years. IVP is a plastics manufacturer located in Washington, IL for over 60 years. The Ag Lab, established in 1940, has a pilot-scale polymer processing and evaluation plant. With the increasing importance of the “bio-economy,” the Ag Lab assists industrial partners by providing commercially viable plant-based fibers and polymers for evaluation in industrial scale processing. IVP shares its expertise in plastics molding and has provided training to Ag Lab employees who work in the pilot plant. Ag Lab scientists have published dozens of articles on plant polymer composites in peer-reviewed scientific journals in the last 10 years. Polymer composites are a blend of a plastic, such as polyethylene, and a plant-based polymer or fiber. Polymer composites reduce the price of a product because the plant-based fibers are normally very inexpensive and can replace a percentage of the more expensive plastic. They also can provide a solution to pollution issue by being partially or completely biodegradable. There are two main avenues of research. The first is to determine how much of the plastic can be substituted without losing the structural integrity of the product. The second is to see if there are any beneficial interactions (like adhesion or bonding) between the two components. If there is, then the product may possess characteristics of both phases and can be used in many different products that require different mechanical properties. The Ag Lab has a pilot-scale injection molder that is capable of making test samples (pictured), but IVP’s main business is to manufacture plastic parts for its customers using robotic-controlled industrial injection molders. Injection molders first melt plastic resins and then “shoot” them under high pressure into molds. These plastic products range from drinking cups to chairs to automotive parts. Many are complex in design so they require different melting, flowing, and cooling properties. IVP is able to provide a “real-world” test for the resins designed by the Ag Lab. IVP is also able to provide customer feedback on the demand for bio-based plastic resins. Bio-based products provide a new market for farmers. For example, the Ag Lab obtained apple cider waste product from a local apple orchard, dried it, and then formed pellets. Normally, the apple waste could be composted, burned or discarded. IVP took the apple waste pellets and combined them with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), a common thermoplastic used many products, and injection molded car parts (pictured). Up to 40% of the ABS could be replaced with the apple waste pellets without loss of functionality. This results in a 40% cost savings because the apple waste costs virtually nothing to acquire. In another example, the Ag Lab took Agave waste from domestic tequila production after fermentation of the sugars to alcohol. We take the waste and separate out the fibers (right) and then chemically treat the fibers to separate the lignin from the cellulose. Most plant cellulose is bound up with the lignin (lignocellulose). We blend each component with different commodity plastics and determine their interactions with the goal being a better product or a range of products with different mechanical properties and water sensitivity. Each product can be marketed as having a certain percentage of biobased material from renewable sources (agriculture). This public-private partnership shows that cooperation in central Illinois is a win-win situation.