Helping corn-based plastics take more heat

September 1, 2010

A team of scientists from USDA and a cooperating company are working to make corn-derived plastics more heat tolerant -- research that may broaden the range of applications for which these plastics could be used as an alternative to petroleum-based plastics

Your favorite catsup or fruit juice might be "hot-filled" at the food-processing plant—that is, poured into its waiting container while the catsup or juice is still hot from pasteurization. Current containers made from corn-based literally can't take the heat of hot-filling, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) chemist William J. Orts.

But Orts and a team of collaborators from Lapol, LLC, of Santa Barbara, Calif., hope to change that by making corn-derived plastics more heat-tolerant. Orts and Lapol co-investigators Allison Flynn and Lennard Torres are doing the work at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., where Orts leads the Bioproduct Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

By boosting the bioplastics' heat tolerance, the collaboration—under way since 2007—may broaden the range of applications for which corn-derived plastics could be used as an alternative to petroleum-based plastics.

Corn-based plastics are made by fermenting corn sugar to produce lactic acid. The lactic acid is used to form polylactic acid, or PLA, a . The Albany team is developing a product known as a heat-deflection temperature modifier that would be blended with PLA to make it more heat-tolerant.

The modifier is more than 90 percent corn-based and is fully biodegradable. There currently are no commercially available heat-deflection temperature modifiers for PLA, according to Randall L. Smith, chief operating officer at Lapol. ARS and Lapol are seeking a patent for the invention.

Explore further: Clemson University spin-off uses corn to make plastics, provide cleaner air

More information: Read more about this and other ARS corn research in the September 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Related Stories

Iowa State corn/soy plastics to be made into hog feeders

September 20, 2006

Larock, a University Professor of chemistry at Iowa State University, found the thin, square piece he was looking for and smacked it against his hand. This one is made from soybean oil reinforced with glass fibers, he said. ...

Recommended for you

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

Why a mutant rice called Big Grain1 yields such big grains

August 24, 2015

(Phys.org)—Rice is one of the most important staple crops grown by humans—very possibly the most important in history. With 4.3 billion inhabitants, Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population, so it's unsurprising ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.