NDSU researchers develop family of biobased resins

By Bryan Sims | August 19, 2011

A team of researchers from North Dakota State University in Fargo has developed a family of biobased resins with the potential to replace common, harmful petrochemical components such as formaldehyde and bisphenol-A.

The NDSU research team used sucrose from sugar beets and oils from soybeans, flaxseed and sunflowers to produce the resins that perform in many different applications and industries, according to Dean Webster, professor at NDSU’s Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials. NDSU graduate students Xiao Pan and T.J. Nelson, undergraduate student Adlina Paramarta and Partha Sengupta, former postdoctoral researcher at NDSU are also on the research team.

“A few years ago I became aware of these sucrose esters as compositions that were available commercially,” Webster explained to Biorefining Magazine, “and I thought how I could take those to advance the technology to develop some materials that have good performance properties.”

When cured, the patent-pending resins are shown to have comparable mechanical properties to petrochemical materials, significantly improve properties over current biobased materials and processes and have a dramatically increased renewable content.

“I think a big challenge in other research being done in the biobased area has been to try to match, or at least get close, to the performance properties of the current materials,” Webster said. “I’m not willing to say we’re exceeding the properties, but we’re definitely exceeding the properties of other biobased approaches that I’ve seen, and I think we’re getting things that are comparable to some of the current petrochemical systems.”

The new resins developed by Webster’s team could decrease reliance on petrochemical-based materials, one of the main components in many coatings formulations. Webster and his team discovered that the epoxidized sucrose ester resins result in materials that are two to four times as functional as vegetable oil-based resins.

Additionally, one novel ultraviolet light curable coating developed by Webster’s group can cure approximately 10 times faster than existing UV-curable biobased coatings.

Another product in the family of biobased resins developed at NDSU exhibits properties that make it ideally suited for biocomposite materials, baking enamels and structural adhesives. Another resin demonstrates more hardness and resistance to solvents than petrochemical-based coatings.

The newly discovered resins developed at NDSU can be used in several industrial applications, including the construction, architectural, biomedical, marine and electronics industries. The technology may also have wide-ranging applications in areas where thermally cured materials are used, such as protective coatings, structural adhesives and composites. The resins are synthesized using raw materials, reagents and processes commonly used in the petrochemical industry.

According to Webster, he and his team intend to shift their work focus to evaluate performance data in more specific applications.

“Since these are brand-new-to-the-world systems, we have to do quite a bit of work to show how they perform in various applications,” Webster said. “Hopefully with some of that data then some companies will come forward and see the potential and want to move this forward commercially.”

Webster’s work on biobased coatings research was funded by the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. The United Soybean Board is sponsoring current biobased coatings research at NDSU while the sucrose ester resins used in the research were provided by P&G Chemicals.