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Kansas Soybean Commission awards Kansas Polymer Research Center $150,000 in grants

The Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC) at Pittsburg State University was recently awarded three grants from the Kansas Soybean Commission. Located on the campus of Pittsburg State University, the KPRC combines internationally recognized scientists from industry with academic laboratory resources and the processing expertise of PSU’s College of Technology in a state-of-the-art research facility. 

The grants total approximately $150,000 and are earmarked to fund the work of researchers Jasna Djonlagic, Ram Gupta and Santi Santra, who will be assisted by PSU student researchers. Tim Dawsey, Executive Director for the Advancement of Applied Science & Technology at Tyler Research Center, said the grants are another show of the well-deserved recognition of the Kansas Polymer Research Center’s leadership in developing new bio-derived materials for a broad range of applications.    

“We’re quite pleased with our success to date,” Dawsey said. “It is energizing to see this continued vote of confidence from a leading agricultural organization such as the Kansas Soybean Commission. Research grants such as these are important to our continued progress. These grants fund research done at the KPRC, housed in the Tyler Research Center, in the area of “green” chemistry, and the use of renewable resources.” 

Located in a rich agricultural environment, the KPRC has over 25 years of experience in developing new materials from plant-based products, by-products, and waste. 

“The KPRC has an internationally recognized competence in bio-based polymers research, with a strong emphasis in polyurethanes, holds multiple patents, and operates at a fraction of the cost,” Dawsey said. “This strategic research provides students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in developing new materials for real-world applications.”   

Dawsey said Djonlagic, along with other members of the KPRC research team, will be investigating the potential for soybean oil of the more visible institutions to be used in novel water-based applications similar to latex paints. 

“For the particular applications they will be investigating, such as coatings and adhesives, the ability to bound with a surface is a critical property that will be evaluated,” Dawsey said. “With the KPRC’s history of developing novel materials from vegetable oils, we think there is great potential to develop commercially viable options for an enormous market that continues to grow.” 

Dawsey said Ram Gupta will also do research on the adhesives and sealants markets, but his area of interest is in the use of soybean meals. 

“The soybean meals have a large number, and variety, of functional groups that will provide strong binding to substrates, and for internally strengthening the materials,” Dawsey said. 

Santi Santra’s project focuses on simplifying the process of making raw materials from soybeans. 

“Dr. Santra’s project is a continuation of previous work supported by the Kansas Soybean Commission, and (he) is looking to advance his work on a one-step process for converting soybean oil to valuable raw materials that can be used in polymer production for use in applications in the CASE markets (coatings, adhesives, sealants, and elastomers),” Dawsey said. “By simplifying the process, it is hoped that his approach will also reduce the cost of the raw material and make it much more attractive to industry.” 

The Kansas Soybean Commission was established in 1977 to help promote the Kansas soybean industry and farmers. Led by a group of nine farmer-leaders and elected by other Kansas soybean farmers, their mission is to improve the profit potential of all Kansas soybean farmers. One of its five priorities to support that mission is to support value-added projects, including the development and commercialization of new industrial uses for soy. 

“The huge, and growing, adhesives and sealants market is critical to a broad range of applications, from paper and packaging to automotive and aviation,” Dawsey said. “Moving these traditional petroleum-based products to more plant-based materials will be a strong positive step toward diversification of our regional economy by leveraging our agricultural roots.”  

The KPRC is the nexus for the National Institute for Materials Advancement (NIMA), a new regional research engine focused on bio-based materials rooted in polymer chemistry and plastics technology.    

“Realization of this vision leverages a multi-decade core competence in polyurethane (PUR) chemistry to manifest our capacity to deliver world-class, value-based research in applied sciences and build demand for our creative services within the polymers and plastics industry,” Dawsey said. “Expansion beyond our PUR core competence will follow a market-directed path starting with our burgeoning expertise in electroactive materials and including a new emphasis in plastics recycling technologies.” 

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