Nanotechnology Project

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Environment, Health and Safety Research

Sustainable Biodegradable Green Nanocomposites From Bacterial Bioplastic For Automotive Applications

Project Information

Principal InvestigatorLawrence T Drzal
InstitutionMichigan State University
Project URLView
Relevance to ImplicationsSome
Class of NanomaterialEngineered Nanomaterials
Impact SectorEnvironment
Broad Research Categories Control
Risk Management
NNI identifier

Funding Information

Anticipated Total Funding$369,613.00
Annual Funding$92,403.25
Funding SourceEPA
Funding MechanismExtramural
Funding SectorGovernment
Start Year2003
Anticipated End Year2007



Renewable resource-based “green” nanocomposites are the next generation of materials which provide a combination of performance and environmental compatibility. This proposal seeks to replace/substitute existing petroleum derived polypropylene (PP)/TPO (thermoplastic olefin) based nanocomposites with environmentally-friendly nanocomposites produced from bacterial-based bioplastic (polyhydroxyalkanoate, PHA) reinforced with compatibilized nanoclay for automotive applications. These nanocomposites are ‘sustainable’ materials since they are: recyclable; are stable in use but can be ‘triggered’ to biodegrade under composting conditions; are environmentally benign; and are commercially viable. In order to achieve ‘sustainability’ this proposal will address all of the critical components such as environment, economics, life cycle analysis, energy and education.

(a) Objectives: The objectives of this proposal are to synergistically combine biobased ‘green’ plastic materials technology and nanotechnology in a new manner that will have a positive impact upon the environment through its increased use in industrial applications. The objectives of this research include: nanoclay/bioplastics mechanical property optimization; research into bioplastic toughening methods and into new alternative, ecofriendly compatibilizers; and verification of sustainability through life-cycle analysis. A concurrent objective is to educate both graduate and undergraduate students the importance of nanotechnology with special importance on the environmental benefits of ‘green’ nanocomposites from environmental prospective.

(b) Experimental Approach: The PHA bioplastic is the only water-resistant biopolymer from renewable resources with potential for automotive applications as a result of its highly crystalline morphology. The project is based on an interactive approach which includes the interrelated topics of: (i) toughening of the bioplastic matrix with natural rubber to mimic the properties of TPO; (ii) plasticization with vegetable oil - - to replace existing undesirable pthalates (iii) synthesis of compatibilizer to bind clay and bioplastic and (iv) investigation and development of cost effective reduced-step extrusion processing. A unique university-industry team composed of Michigan State University, General Motors, Metabolix (bioplastic manufacturer) and Nanocor (producer of nanoclay) has been assembled to insure industrial and commercial viability.

Expected Results:

Environmentally benign materials: Since the bioplastic is a renewable resource-based material, the resulting green nanocomposites are eco-friendly because of their recyclability and compostability/biodegradability. This could result in a substantial reduction in green house gases and reduction of nation’s reliance on oil and enhancement of national security.

Fuel savings and emissions reduction due to lighter auto parts: The proposed lightweight green nanocomposites would reduce vehicle weight and would contribute significantly to fuel savings. About 7 liters of fuel per kilogram of vehicle weight could be saved over the life of a typical vehicle, or about 15 billion liters annually. In addition, ~3 kg of CO2 are produced by combustion of 1 kg of fuel, thereby reducing CO2 emissions as well.

Replacement of phthalate plasticizers: In the plastics industry, in order to improve processability, phthalate plasticizers (a suspected endocrine disrupter) are used extensively in petroleum based plastics. This project will use natural rubber as a toughening agent and derivitized soybean oil as a plasticizer which would create a significant positive impact on our environment as well as our agricultural and manufacturing industries.

Industrial Impact: Petroleum-based based plastics are nonbiodegradable and add to global warming. While performance limitations and high initial cost have restricted the adoption of bio-plastics to niche markets, the availability of higher performance ‘green’ plastics will prove to be beneficial for the ‘greening’ of U.S. automobiles and for recycling.

Supplemental Keywords:

Green Chemistry, Material Science, Innovative Technology, Waste Reduction, Socio-Economic, Transportation, Ecosystem, Eco-Friendly Materials. Environmentally Conscious Manufacturing, Life-Cycle Analysis, Sustainable Development, Innovative Technology, Renewable , INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, POLLUTION PREVENTION, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Chemical Engineering, Chemicals Management, Chemistry and Materials Science, Energy, Environmental Chemistry, Environmental Engineering, Sustainable Environment, Technology, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Design for Environment, air pollution control, alternative materials, automotive industry, automotive interior parts, biodegradable plastics, biodegradeable nanocomposites, biopolymers, clean manufacturing, clean technologies, cleaner production, energy conservation, environmental conscious construction, environmental sustainability, environmentally applicable nanoparticles, environmentally benign alternative, environmentally conscious design, environmentally conscious manufacturing, environmentally friendly green products, green chemistry, green design, nanocomposite, nanomaterials, nanoparticles, nanotechnology