With cellulosic ethanol now being produced in Iowa, researchers at Iowa State University hope to convert some of the by-products into useful renewable materials.
David Grewell is director of the new Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites. He says lignin—a natural polymer that makes plants woody and rigid—is one research target for the center
“We’re looking at turning that into carbon fibers,” he says, “so we’re hoping to turn this very low value product right now into a very high value product.”
The carbon fibers could then be a renewable ingredient in composite materials.
Grewell says a federal grant helped launch the center, which is a partnership with Washington State University. But small and large companies are funding the research.
“That all comes from industry partners,” he says. “And we have a wide range. We have 23 members as we speak.”
Partners include 3M, Hyundai, and Newell Rubbermaid as well as smaller companies that focus on renewable materials.