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SBIR Phase II: Scale Up and Commercialization of Lignin-Based Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics for Horticultural and Agricultural Applications


This broader impact of this SBIR Phase II project is to develop low-cost, biodegradable biopolymers to replace non-degradable, single-use plastics to reduce plastic waste. Currently, most plastic products are made from non-renewable resources and are not degradable in nature. In agriculture and horticulture, there is a need for low-cost, biodegradable and compostable plastics to support the production of food and other agricultural products. More broadly, in other industries, like consumer packaged goods and food-service packaging, there is a growing demand for biodegradable and compostable products. The proposed research will demonstrate scale-up and commercial viability for biopolymers made from lignin, the primary waste product of the paper and biofuel industries. These biopolymers will have mechanical properties comparable to commercial plastics; they will be biodegradable in soil in under 2 years and in industrial composting conditions in under 6 months. At the end of this project, multiple grades of biopolymers will be identified and optimized for applications, such as nursery containers for greenhouses or agricultural mulch film for farmers. The scope of this project will also include the exploration of novel manufacturing processes that will address product applications beyond agriculture and horticulture.<br/><br/>The proposed SBIR Phase II project will advance the development of a new family of biodegradable plastic materials using lignin, an organic waste product from the paper and biofuel industries, as a key low-cost input material treated as a copolymer, rather than a reinforcing filler, such as carbon black. The proposed research will demonstrate scale-up and commercial viability of a novel reactive extrusion technology, capable of producing biodegradable and compostable thermoplastics with lignin contents of at least 50 weight percent, using solvent-free reactive processing. The polymer alloys will have mechanical properties comparable to commodity polymers, such as low-density polyethylene and polypropylene, and biodegradable in soil in under 2 years and thermophilic composting conditions in under 6 months. These materials will be validated for commercial scale production using twin-screw extruders, converted to raw material feedstocks used in plastics manufacturing including filament, pellets, and sheet, and then converted with standard equipment into products such as containers for agriculture, floral, and forestry plant production.<br/><br/>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.

Tony Bova
Mobius PBC
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