Carolina, August 24, 2004 (ENS): Tetramer Technologies,
LLC is adding corn to plastic containers - and cars,
airplanes and golf clubs. The Clemson University spinoff
company has just received a $100,000 small business
research grant from the National Science Foundation
to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of plastics
partially derived from renewable sources like corn.
The award follows two previous grants, demonstrating
that the National Science Foundation is really interested
in vegetable based plastics.
Most plastics, varnishes and packaging foams are made
from chemicals derived from petroleum. But now stiffer
environmental regulations and consumer conscience are
driving the search for materials that are recyclable,
renewable and less polluting.
Polylactic acid is a byproduct of corn. It currently
is used in some pill coatings and sutures because it
easily dissolves - a property not desirable in drink
containers, boat coatings and packaging.
Clemson University professor Dennis Smith and his research
group have found a new way to replace up to 50 percent
of the chemicals that make regular plastics with polylactic
acid. The end product is a plastic that has both the
environmental friendliness of the corn-based product
and the durability of regular plastics.
Potentially, this new material could reduce by five
billion pounds per year the amount of single use, nonbiodegradable
plastics that are discarded. The new manufacturing process
also could cut air pollutants from plants that produce
But corn based plastics are not really new. In May
2003, Wild Oats Markets became the first grocery stores
in North America to switch from conventional plastics
to corn based polylactic acid plastics for packaging.
IPER, a 22 store chain in Italy, first launched a Cargill
Dow corn based plastic packaging product in 2002 to
bring new attention to its fresh foods. All 22 IPER
markets now sell a broad range of produce, fresh pasta
and salads in the corn plastic packaging.
And in Belgium, the supermarket Bio-Planet began offering
foods packaged in the Cargill Dow product earlier this
But Clemson wants to develop a homegrown South Carolina
corn based plastic product. "By finding commercial
applications for Clemson research, Tetramer is fueling
South Carolina's knowledge based economy," said
Earl Wagener, CEO of Tetramer. "We're creating
jobs that will help keep the top researchers coming
out of the university."
Wagener, a 1967 Clemson graduate in physical organic
chemistry, returned to South Carolina to head the company.
Wagener has 36 years of new product commercialization
and venture capital experience at Stepan Co. and The
ChemQuest Group Inc. and Dow Chemical.