For four chemical engineering seniors at Oregon State University, their senior project could lead to more than a good grade. David Hackleman, the Linus Pauling Chair at the College of Engineering, had high hopes for Christen Glarborg, Patrick O’Connor, Heather Paris and Alana Warner-Tuhy when he invited them to work on a project turning byproducts from the biodiesel and winemaking industries into an environmentally friendly polymer, but applying for a patent wasn’t one of them. But the students’ research could have a major commercial application. The polymer combines glycerin, a byproduct of ethanol production, and tartaric acid, a byproduct of winemaking. The resulting polymer biodegrades in water and vaporizes at 600 degrees. Hackleman says the polymer could be used in an eco-friendly foam meat tray, the type found in supermarkets, or in fire logs.
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