University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota gets major grant for research on environment-friendly plastics

September 12, 2011

Research on creating more environment-friendly, cost-efficient plastics from natural and renewable materials got a boost today as the University of Minnesota announces a $1.5 million grant over three years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Centers for Chemical Innovation program to the university’s Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP). The grant also makes the university eligible for additional funding in the future.

“We are tremendously excited about this new support from the NSF,” said Marc Hillmyer, director of the CSP and a chemistry professor in the university’s College of Science and Engineering (CSE). “With our strong history in polymer science and seed funding from the University of Minnesota, we have already been able to establish a national presence in the sustainable polymer arena.

The CSP focuses its research on the challenge of creating advanced synthetic polymers (plastics) from renewable, natural and sustainable resources instead of finite fossil fuels. Those resources include vegetable oils, starches, sugars and terpenes (essential organic oils produced by plants, flowers and conifers). Researchers are especially interested in materials that require low energy input, are non-toxic and can be composted.

In addition to advancing cutting-edge polymer research at the university, the center focuses on forming partnerships with industries, teaching students about sustainable materials and educating and engaging the public.

Hillmyer said this newly established Center for Chemical Innovation will help Minnesota become a leading global center of excellence in sustainable polymer science and greatly expand the center’s capabilities.

“With Minnesota’s leadership in the area of biobased materials and the university’s breadth of expertise, we are well-positioned to make significant and important research contributions,” Hillmyer added.

The Center for Sustainable Polymers was launched in May 2009 as a research center within CSE. The center secured seed funding provided by the university's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) large grant program intended to help launch early-stage, high-potential projects in emerging fields of renewable energy and the environment.

Over the last two years, the center has recruited 24 company affiliates with similar ambitions, including 3M, Cargill, Dow and H.B. Fuller.

“There is a tremendous amount of activity in the industrial sector in the area of biobased materials,” Hillmyer said. “The Center for Sustainable Polymers aims to partner with industry and provide the necessary fundamental research that underpins new and emerging sustainable polymer technologies.”

Over the next three years, the CSP will work to achieve its new goals, which may make it eligible for even more funding. NSF Centers for Chemical Innovation program is a two-phase program. Successful centers receiving the three-year phase I funding are eligible for phase II grants that provide up to $40 million over 10 years.

For more information about CSP research activities, researchers and university and industry partners, visit

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Ph.D. chemistry student Elizabeth Jackson talked with fairgoers about the future of plastics at the 2011 Minnesota State Fair. The Center for Sustainable Polymers created an interactive exhibit for the 2010 and 2011 State Fair as part of its educational and public outreach activities.

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