This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project will investigate the development of performance bio-based latex from alkyl itaconates for application in wood coatings. Identified by DOE in 2004 as a top 12 renewable chemical, itaconic acid and its derivatives have potential use in polymers for a variety of products from builders in detergents to binders in paints and coatings. Itaconix has successfully produced stable alkylitaconate bio-based latexes using its patent-pending green emulsion polymerization process. The current performance of these latexes is not sufficient to overcome marketplace inertia favoring the well-established petroleum-based latexes.This research will combine a new model-based approach and Itaconix?s existing polymer expertise to (a) identify the key synthesis parameters necessary to enhance cohesion and adhesion and (b) minimize hydroplastization effects. The key to controlling these parameters is to optimize the morphology of the structured latex particles. The goal is to create core-shell type geometries where a hard core acts like a hydrophobic reinforcement domain and the soft shell provides film-forming properties.
The Broader Impact/commercial potential of this project will be market acceptance and use for optimized alkylitaconate latexes that offer superior price/performance over current latexes in certain wood coatings. With this commercial breakthrough, we will open the potential for developing favorable bio-refining economics and leveraging efficient latex production technologies that will enable broader use of bio-latexes. While bio-based chemicals rapidly capture the interest of customers and generate application testing, they rarely command more than a slight price premium over petroleum-based chemicals. To succeed commercially and reduce our dependence on petroleum, bio-based latexes need to offer compelling price/performance advantages.Current paint and coatings manufacturers face wide price variations from petroleum-based monomers and latexes, often requiring costly product reformulations and adjustments. A long-term expected advantage from bio-based materials is more stable sourcing and formulations. Our research is expected to generate initial market acceptance and use for optimized alkylitaconate latexes that offer superior price/performance over current latexes in certain wood coatings. With this commercial breakthrough, we will open the potential for developing favorable bio-refining economics and leveraging efficient latex production technologies that will enable broader use of bio-latexes.
Itaconix Corporation is the world leader in polymers made from itaconic acid. Founded in 2008 with proprietary technology from the University of New Hampshire, we combine novel green chemistry with sustainable industrial biotechnology to convert renewable resources into biodegradable ingredients used in consumer products. Our first commercial product line, Itaconix DSP™ are water-soluble bio-based polymers that are sold to detergent formulators as effective and environmentally-friendly chelants and dispersants to replace phosphates, citrates, EDTA and certain petroleum-based chemicals. Itaconix DSP™ is influencing the detergent formulation industry by allowing the leading standard and green detergent brands to launch environmentally-friendly products that satisfy consumer needs for performance and cost. Likewise, we are on the road to advancing the latex formulation industry by developing bio-based latexes that innovative in that they 1) are a new product class based on sustainable chemicals derived from the fermentation of renewable carbohydrates, 2) use a combination of green processes including aqueous emulsion polymerization, and 3) accelerates bio-refinery integration, with bio-based latex being at the end of a high value added chain. During this NSF-SBIR effort, Itaconix developed a new class of bio-based latexes through the emulsion polymerization of dialkylitaconates, a classic example of green chemistry and innovative engineering. In Phase I we successfully synthesized a series of novel itaconate di-esters that were subsequently polymerized to create stable, high solid content, low odor latexes at laboratory and then at 5 liter scale. We focused on improving cohesion and adhesion to various substrates, freeze-thaw stability, water scrub resistance, and water repellency. The latexes produced via our innovative and patented emulsion polymerization process were applied to common surfaces such as wood, concrete, and fabric to create a smooth and transparent coating that exhibited good water barrier properties. One of the major outcomes of this Phase I project was the substantiation of the commercial viability of our bio-based dialkyl itaconates latexes. We have identified three price segments based on customer size and price receptivity. Price covers a range from $2/kg to $3.5/kg. These numbers come from direct interaction and dialogue with customers in each of these segments. Samples were sent to three companies representing these market segments for further evaluation and testing in their own product applications. Feedback obtained from these formulators [concrete, wood, paper, and textile coatings] was supportive as shown through their letters of support for our Phase II proposal. Our next phase will be dedicated to transforming our proof of concept bio-based latexes into commercially viable products. This work is highly relevant to the U.S. goals of being the leader in the development and commercialization of Bio-Based Chemicals and Renewable Chemical Process Technologies (see CT1 at www.nsf.gov/eng/iip/sbir/06_2013_bc.jsp). From paints to paper, current latex polymer customers are actively seeking water-borne, low VOC binders to achieve new levels of end-user product performance, increase the bio-content of end-user products, and reduce price fluctuations intrinsic to petroleum-based products. The commercial success of this project will have favorable impacts on health, safety, performance, cost, and U.S. leadership in renewable chemicals and environmental initiatives.