Development of Novel Polyester, Poly(ester amides) and Polyolefins Derived from Renewable Resources

Grant # 93-13-02
Principal Investigator: Bradley M. Chamberlain
Organization: Luther College, Decorah, IA
Technical Area: Renewable Energy


Biodegradable polymers derived from renewable resources (e.g., starch, cellulose, lactic acid) provide a foundation for sustainable commercial technologies; these technologies, in turn, alleviate environmental problems associated with the increasing demands of industrialized society for carbon-based chemical processes. Recently, rapid advances have been made in the development of biodegradable polymers, most notably the commercialization of polylactide. Polylactide (PLA) is a polyester with considerable potential in fiber, film and packaging application; it is prepared via the ring-opening polymerization of lactide, a cyclic ester ultimately derived from the fermentation of corn. Polylactide production is projected to increase worldwide consumption of biodegradable polymers to 7.92 billion pounds per year by 2020.

Nonetheless, the commercial success of polylactide (and thus other related biodegradable polymers) will depend upon chemists’ ability to rationally control its properties. Funding from the Iowa Energy Center is requested to provide the stipends of two students and the Principal Investigator during the summers of 2003 and 2004, chemical reagents for both of the academic years and summers, and a small amount of synthetic equipment. The requested funding will allow the initiation of five polymerization studies at Luther College, a private, liberal arts college in Decorah, IA widely recognized for its strength in the natural and physical sciences. The studies will focus upon the development of novel polyesters, poly(ester amides) and polyolefins derived from renewable resources.

Project Objectives

The specific objectives of the proposed research are to:

(1) develop novel plant-based polyesters derived from naturally-occurring terpenes;
(2) develop plant-based poly(ester amides) derived from morpholine-2,5-diones;
(3) develop novel lactone polymerization catalysts based upon titanium(IV) alkoxides;
(4) develop novel plant-based polyolefins derived from naturally-occurring fatty acids;
(5) develop novel optically active, late transition metal olefin polymerization catalysts.

These studies are expected to yield new materials and catalysts that will broaden the physical properties (and thus applications) of PLA-based materials. In so doing, we hope to strengthen the viability of PLA technologies, thereby improving markets for feedstocks produced by Iowa’s agricultural industries.