The last five years of research and development into the use of different agricultural by-products to reinforce plastics has rapidly led to several industrial opportunities. Our biocomposite research group at NDSU in the Mechanical Engineering Department has investigated corn by-products such as Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS), chaff, cob, and stover as reinforcement in a large variety of commodity thermoplastics (polypropylene, low density polyethylene, high density polyethylene, etc.) as well as engineered thermoplastics (nylon, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, etc.) and thermosets (epoxy, polyester, etc.). We have demonstrated that agricultural by-products can improve stiffness, strength, heat stability, dimensional tolerance, and resistance to UV exposure in most of the plastics they are introduced. This technology is starting to make its way into the mainstream as we have demonstrated through several trials with John Deere Co., AGCO Corp., Bobcat Co., and now Ford Motor Co.
As a result of the increased demand for experimental biocomposite material for trial in different applications for various companies, the new focus of our group has been in scaling up production. Therefore in the summer of 2011, planning towards the development of the NDSU Center for Biocomposite Research and Engineering (CBRE) began. The center will be housed in 5,000 sq. ft. of leased space from SpaceAge Synthetics, Inc., a composite manufacturing company located in the Fargo industrial park. The first major piece of equipment purchased is a large twin screw extruder from Nanjing Giant Machinery Co., Ltd. and was delivered in early 2012. This equipment will allow more material to be produced more quickly, thereby allowing us to supply more companies with more of the biocomposite material we have developed for prototypes and trials. The North Dakota Corn Councilâ€™s funding of $250,000 was critical in obtaining the large twin screw extruder.
Another major objective this year has been to develop a rotational molding grade of biocomposite. In a partnership with GVL Poly, we have been able to formulate a rotational molding grade of biocomposite based on 10 weight percent DDGS reinforced high density polyethylene. GVL Poly is a major producer of quality polyethylene gatherer snouts to fit John Deere, Case IH, New Holland, Gleaner, and AGCO corn-heads. All of GVL Poly gatherer snouts are manufactured at their Litchfield, MN site. The goal for trials set for early 2012 will be to incorporate 15-30 weight percent DDGS and to manipulate the color of the compound for the various equipment manufactures GVL Poly serves.
Another result of the growing interest in the biocomposite materials we have developed over the past five years has been in the development of a small business spin-off.
Founded by Corey Kratcha, Chief Executive Officer, and Chad Ulven, Chief Technology Officer, c2renew corporation produces and supplies compounded biocomposites using licensed formulas from NDSU. Our primary competitive advantage is in providing a drop-in material replacement that is a greener alternative to traditional plastic products at a lower cost than traditional plastics, without sacrificing critical performance metrics. Initially we will produce our material by leasing time on equipment in existing facilities in MN, WI, and MI, but our future plans include raising the capital needed to develop a manufacturing facility in rural ND to produce 2 million pounds of biocomposite material per year within the next 2-3 years.