This Partnership for Innovation Project from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-POLY) addresses the need to develop bioplastics that, in addition to being biobased and offering a desirable environmental footprint, will also provide future customers with improved performance characteristics over existing materials. To do so is critical in order to motivate consumers to renounce current petro-derived materials for new-to-the-world bioplastics such as those proposed herein. The strategy pursued by the project team is to utilize bioplastics with the right combination of properties while focusing on engineering the interface or boundaries between these components to optimize material performance. Specifically, selected material components include cellulose nanowhiskers (CNWs), poly (omega-hydroxyfatty acids (P (omega-OHFAs)), and poly (lactic acid) (PLA). While P (omeg-OHFAs) provides good hydrolytic stability and physical toughness, the PLA-CNW nanocomposites provide high modulus and improved use temperatures. The knowledge-enhance partner (KEP) small businesses in this project, PolyNew Inc. (engineered CNWs) and SyntheZyme LLC (P(omega-OHFAs) and their blends with PLA), bring together the required technologies to exploit synergies that will result by the judicious combination of materials to provide superior performance 100% biobased bioplastics. The production of omega-OHFAs will be performed by using SyntheZyme's newly engineered yeast strain that provides the first efficient biotechnological route to convert fatty acids to omega-HOFAs. P(omega-HOFAs) have properties similar to medium density polyethylene (PE). However, unlike PE, P(omega-HOFAs) contain ester groups separated by 13 to 17 methylene (CH2) units. Thus, P(omega-HOFAs) provide important PE-like properties such as water resistance and excellent ductility while retaining chemical reactivity so they can be reactive blended with PLA and strengthened by CNWs. PolyNew Inc. and SyntheZyme LLC will work together to develop technologies by which CNWs are functionalized to engineer interactions with blended P(omega-HOFAs) and PLAs. The impressive performance of CNWs derives from their aspect ratio that enables them to reach their percolation threshold (e.g., where long-range connectivity is achieved within the material) at relatively low loadings, resulting in impressive modulus increases. Preliminary work has shown that P (omega-OHFAs)/PLA blends show promising properties that would greatly benefit by incorporation of specifically functionalized CNWs.
The broader impacts of this research to society at large are many. The project is consistent with Federal policies supporting greater use of biobased products including the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which is designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established to meet demands for renewable energy and bioproducts. Socially, there are advantages associated with employment in the plastics, forestry and agriculture sectors of the economy--the project strongly supports Green Jobs creation. Reductions in petroleum dependence (even relatively modest ones) are also considered beneficial. Teaching and training will be promoted and considerable outreach activities will be pursued. Previous success in incorporating underrepresented groups (women, Hispanics, and African Americans) in research activities will be continued.
Partners at the inception of the project are the Knowledge-Enhancement Partnership (KEP) unit, consisting of NYU-POLY (Brooklyn, NY) and two small businesses partner companies: SyntheZyme LLC (Brooklyn, NY), a small business with private stock holders; and PolyNew Inc. (Golden, CO), a privately held woman-owned small business. Other partners are academic institutional organizations: University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus (CO), Colorado School of Mines (CO), NYU Langone Medical Center (NY), NYU College of Dentistry (NY), Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute (NY), and the Denver School for Science and Technology (DSST) (CO); private sector organizations: Fish & Richardson; Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP; Berenbaum & Weinsheienk; Sealed Air; Dart Packaging; DSM; ADM; NatureWorks; Lubrizol; BASF and Pepsico; and public sector organizations: Aurora Economic Development Council (AEDC), New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Colorado Bioscience Association (CBSA), Colorado Institute for Drug, Device and Diagnostic Development (CID4), Colorado Office for Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), Colorado Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), and Fitzsimons BioBusiness Partners (FBBp) & Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority (FRA) (Aurora, CO).