This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project addresses the use of "green" composite building materials as a replacement for conventional plastics and wood products. These green composites have the advantage of superior strength-to-weight ratios over pressed wood products while eliminating use of the carcinogen formaldehyde. They also offer comparable strength-to-weight ratios to petroleum-based advanced composites while having the advantages of being generated from sustainable resources and being biodegradable. However, one of the significant challenges with composites that use protein-based resins is poor moisture resistance. This project will investigate the use of accelerants to produce highly cross-linked soy-protein resins. The Phase I program will result in the development and characterization of several formulations of the composite material resin in combination with fibers. The resulting green composites will be characterized after varying levels of exposure to moisture to determine their suitability for a variety of commercial applications. The Phase I research will enable the production of samples for potential customers and partners based on their application specifications.
The broader impact/commercial potential of this project will involve a shift of many consumer products away from non-renewable, petroleum-based products to materials produced from annually-renewable agricultural materials, providing a cost-effective solution with higher performance. These composites have the potential to replace formaldehyde-containing pressed wood products and petroleum-based advanced composites in building applications such as residential cabinetry and office furniture. They also have the potential to be used in the automotive industry for auto trimming. These materials do not use hazardous chemicals and have greater strength-to-weight ratios than pressed wood products (even without the use of nano-clay and microfibrillated cellulose additives), enabling weight savings. This reduction in materials results in a cost savings while having the advantages of being biodegradable and generated from sustainable resources. Further, existing pressed-wood manufacturing and assembly facilities can be readily converted to the manufacture and use of these composite systems without major retooling, enabling companies to shift to eco-friendly products without job losses or worker displacement.
This Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase I research project investigated the use of natural plant-derived compounds and natural and synthetic cross-linking agents in protein-based resin systems to improve the moisture resistance of biodegradable, petroleum-free, â€˜greenâ€™ composite building materials. Based on technology licensed from Cornell University and developed for commercialization over the last 4 years by e2e Materials, Inc., the proposed materials are a combination of modified soy protein resins with strong natural fibers used to produce green composites. These composites have the potential to replace formaldehyde-containing pressed wood products and petroleum-based composites in building and automotive applications. The green composites have the advantage of superior strength-to-weight ratios over pressed wood products, require less than 1/3rd the energy to produce, and do not use formaldehyde, a carcinogen being legislated out of use. They also offer comparable strength-to-weight ratios to petroleum-based advanced composites while having the advantages of being generated from sustainable resources and being biodegradable. However, one of the significant challenges with composites that use protein-based resins is poor moisture resistance. Moisture resistance is a key challenge for two of the larger markets being addressed: residential cabinetry (kitchen cabinetry and bath vanities) and automotive (parts for door panels, load floors, trunk- and headliners). The Phase I project investigated a number of accelerants and cross-linking agents to create highly cross-linked protein resins that are more moisture resistant. A number of promising candidates for improving moisture resistance where identified under the Phase I project.