Joint CBE-CCEE Bio-Polymer Facility celebrates first production run

Key individuals from both engineering departments involved in the development of the facility are shown at its grand opening ceremony in 2015. From left: Andy Hillier, Reginald R. Baxter Endowed Department Chair, Chemical and Biological Engineering; associate professor Eric Cochran, CBE; Gerald and Audrey Olson Professor R. Christopher Williams, Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering; and Terry Wipf, Don and Sharon Greenwood Endowed Department Chair, CCEE.

The Iowa State University Bio-Polymer Processing Facility, which opened in 2015, has celebrated a major milestone: It recently launched its first production run of biopolymers – plastics that are made from the conversion of fats and vegetables.

Construction of the plant, which is located in the ISU BioCentury Farm, was spearheaded by Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Eric Cochran and Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering Gerald and Audrey Olson Professor R. Christopher Williams.

The $5.3 million plant will figure heavily in research and development of biopolymers for industry.

Since its inception, the vision for the plant was to allow university engineers to research and develop the process for producing biopolymers, which has numerous commercial uses, including asphalt paving, adhesives, coatings and packing materials. A major plus for the facility is that it also “de-risks” the technology for companies that may be interested in producing large quantities of biopolymers. It is able to produce 1,000 pounds of biopolymers per day and will play a key role in evaluation for industry. Feedstock materials used in the process are domestically sourced and can be produced anywhere in the U.S. The plant also serves as a valuable source of experiential learning for both undergraduate and graduate students in both of the involved engineering departments.

Development of the $5.3 million plant was assisted by grants, from sources that included the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Iowa State University Regents’ Innovation Fund. More than 200 individuals, including faculty, staff, students and university corporate and government partners attended its dedication in August of 2015.

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