SBIR Phase I: Trans-esterified Lignin Thermoplastic

Period of Performance: 01/01/2013 - 12/31/2013


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Cyclewood Solutions, Inc
700 W Research Ctr Blvd Ste 1420
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Principal Investigator, Firm POC


This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project addresses the need for affordable biobased plastics to replace petroleum-based materials. The objectives of this research are to demonstrate strong intermolecular interactions between chemically modified lignin and thermoplastics, demonstrate optimal conditions for transesterification, demonstrate enhanced mechanical properties of polyester and polystyrene, and demonstrate scale-up feasibility. This research has two main components that are broken down into other major tasks. The first component is the experimental testing of transesterification to improve lignin thermoplastic blends. This is completed by preparing a chemically modified lignin and attempting to transesterify it at various blend proportions with a polyester. Next, samples will be produced for analysis to determine the physical and mechanical properties. The second component is to ensure commercial viability of the manufacturing process and materials. Larger amounts of transesterified product will be produced using small-scale industrial manufacturing equipment. The production process will include steps towards optimization of efficient manufacturing practices for scalability. The anticipated results of this Phase I project are to create a transesterified lignin/polyester product that has equal or better mechanical and physical properties to polyester or polystyrene that can be produced at a commercial scale. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project addresses the growing problem of the U.S. plastic bag and film market. Plastic bags are an environmental eyesore that pollute waterways and kill wildlife. Local governments are now passing laws to ban the use plastic bags in efforts to hinder the spread of pollution. The U.S. plastic bag market was $8.6 billion in 2010. Further, the bioplastics market is expected to more than triple by 2015 to $2.9 billion. While society and government have placed more emphasis on reduction or replacement of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) shopping bags, these bags are still widely popular, with over 100 billion bags consumed every year across the U.S. alone. Lignin output is expected to increase in the ensuing years due to an increase in cellulosic ethanol plants coming on line and more efficient paper manufacturing processes. Transesterified lignin resins will range in lignin concentration depending on the application. The components of the resin can be fully biodegradable or compounded with conventional plastics to create sustainable blends. The experiments conducted for this project will determine the ideal conditions and materials necessary to produce transesterified lignin products. Experiments will also be conducted to scale up the process to a commercial scale.