Iowa State University starts production on $5.3m bio-polymer pilot plant

By Jenny Eagle contact

- Last updated on GMT

Eric Cochran (second from left), and Chris Williams (second from right)
Eric Cochran (second from left), and Chris Williams (second from right)

Related tags: Iowa

Iowa State University has partnered with Argo Genesis Chemical to start production on a $5.3m bio-polymer processing plant at Iowa State’s BioCentury Research Farm.

The facility, built by Argo Genesis Chemical, a sister company to Seneca Petroleum Co., of Crestwood, Illinois opened this week.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of bio-polymers a year

This is new territory for us​,” said Eric Cochran, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, Iowa State.

This actually feels like a chemical plant. We’re working to scale up these processes and turn them into commercial products​.”

Williams said taking the process from the lab to the pilot scale is all about “de-risking” the technology for companies that could be interested in producing hundreds of thousands of tons of bio-polymers a year.

Cochran and Christopher Williams, Gerald and Audrey Olson Professor in Civil Engineering, Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, started a project to develop a process that converts soybean oil into thermoplastics in 2010

Within a year, they were making a few grams of biorenewable polymers from soybean oil, acrylic acid and a chemical process called atom transfer radical polymerization.

Now, after 18 months of designing and building, the bio-polymer processing plant will make about 1,000 pounds of bio-polymers per day.

This facility represents tens of thousands of hours of concerted team effort by our researchers, colleagues, administrators, government officials, and business partners,​” added Cochran.

'Create a competitive advantage'

Donald Sjogren, specialty products manager for Seneca Petroleum and assistant to the manager for Argo Genesis Chemical, said the company was the first in the Midwest to add petroleum-based polymers to asphalt in the early 1990s.

The idea was to add longevity and resilience to asphalt pavements and create a competitive advantage.

With the hope of eventually replacing the petroleum-based polymers in its asphalt with biorenewable ones, the company supported the laboratory work of Cochran and Williams.

As the technology came together, the company licensed it from Iowa State University Research Foundation and agreed to build a pilot-scale facility.

We’re always interested in being the first in the industry to bring a biorenewable aspect to our products​,” said Sjogren.

We are already working with the university on the next generations of these technologies​.”

Williams added: “We fulfilled an industry research need, which bridges Iowa State University work with market demands for bio-polymers​.”

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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