This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project scales the production of renewable monomers that give access to performance nylon polyamides with tailorable functional properties for applications in the automotive, food & beverage packaging, textiles, and other industries. The revolutionary technology will be a disruptive force to the $40 billion nylon polyamide industry by addressing nylon?s weaknesses such as undesired moisture adsorption, which results in loss of dimensional stability and tensile strength. These shortcomings lead industries to make compromises in selecting their materials; for instance, longer chain polyamides are used for moisture resistance but at the expense of desired viscoelastic properties. The proposed bio-advantaged monomers will 1) help ease reliance on petroleum-based chemicals resulting in greener production processes and a cleaner environment, 2) present new opportunities for innovation and use of performance plastics due to the platform that bio-advantaged monomers offer. This is expected to generate new jobs at multiple points in the value chain. Demand for agricultural goods by fermentation facilities will increase. Sumatra Biorenewables and its partners will create jobs to meet demand for monomer production and purification. Finally, polymer producers and the manufacturing industry will produce superior products, increasing the competitiveness of the U.S. chemical industry.
The intellectual merit of this project is to combine fermentation and chemical conversion for the production of bio-advantaged monomers and their corresponding performance-enhanced polyamides. The inexpensive, robust, and efficient monomer production process in conjunction with the customizable nature of bio-advantaged monomers to yield nylon derivatives that are hydrophobic, flame retardant, anti-static, or otherwise tailorable, afford opportunities to meet a number of needs in the manufacturing sector. The innovation?s success hinges on a monomer production process that utilizes an inexpensive electrochemical conversion that operates near 100% efficiency and that only uses water as a reactant and electricity as an energy source. In addition, the monomer production process is insensitive to the feedstock source and the impurities present in fermentation broths. Therefore, separation and purification is only required after monomer production, resulting in huge cost savings. Laboratory-tested samples of hydrophobic nylon perform equally well as dry nylon, but without the disadvantage of moisture sensitivity. This project will enable Sumatra Biorenewables to transition to a continuous flow, kilogram-scale, production process and supply potential customers with samples for performance testing.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.