In March, the USDA said yes to a proposal by the KPRC to use a $2 million allocation to pursue the cutting-edge research, which would simplify the conversion process of using natural oils to create polymers. Those polymers ultimately lead to environmentally friendly end products such as floor tiles or foam seats for chairs. These conversion methods will also be applied to oils from algae. The allocation was included in last fall's Federal Omnibus Spending Bill, and is disbursed by the USDA.
Over the past five years, the center has received national attention for its work converting bio-based materials such as vegetable and soybean oil into products that are produced and distributed by industry partners. With this new allocation, which will be distributed to the KPRC over a three-year period beginning this September, scientists will become pioneers in exploring this sustainable form of research using an important natural resource.
"This research would take our work from a multi-step to a single-step conversion process, which would save time, money, energy, and waste," said Dr. Andrew Myers, director of the KPRC. While the KPRC doesn't grow algae or produce the oils, Myers said it is working with its partners to support algae oil production and provide samples.
"Depending on what you feed it, algae produce things like oils that we believe we can turn into polymers," he said. "The field of renewable materials is both popular and relevant to the green chemistry movement that is receiving a lot of attention today. Algae research is an area that has a lot of potential."
Steve Robb, KPRC executive director emeritus, said USDA leaders have expressed an unrivaled confidence in the research taking place at the center, and have encouraged the scientists to explore the unlimited potential in this field.
"This is definitely cutting-edge, and it keeps the KPRC on the forefront of research in that field," Robb said. "These kinds of research grants are few and far between. In most cases, the money goes out and it is the government telling schools what to do with it. But in this case, they're encouraging us to explore and they're as excited as we are."
©2011 Pittsburg State University