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Soy-based product explored as non-toxic substitute for important but toxic reactive compound


BLACKSBURG, Va., March 28, 2007 – Virginia Tech chemists are looking for biobased alternatives and environmentally friendly reaction pathways to replace a toxic intermediate that is a critical component of many polymer products.

Isocyanates are important to many products we take for granted – from paint to spandex running shorts. But the high reactivity for which the chemical group is valued also makes this compound toxic when breathed.

Sharlene R. Williams, of Springfield, Ohio, a chemistry graduate student in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, has created macromolecules with comparable reactivity using soy-based chemistry. Williams presented her research at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago on March 25-29.

“We are looking for alternative chemistry that offers the advantage of reactivity but is not toxic, and is cheaper than petroleum based chemistry,” said Tim Long, professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech. “We are looking at bio-feedstocks such as soy-based triglycerides and peptides in combination with novel chemistry.”

Williams has demonstrated that a process called the “Michael addition” induces reactivity in soy proteins, and also improves mechanical properties of the bio-based polymer.

“Agriculture-based polymers may offer comparable performance to petroleum-based polymers,” said Long. “They offer strength and elasticity. We think the Michael addition reaction offers the opportunity to address elastomer technology challenges with safer reactivity.”

Williams presented “Michael addition of acetoacetate functionalized oligomers: From biomedical applications to novel elastomers” (Poly 237) on Tuesday, March 27, in McCormick Place South room S504A. Authors are Long, Williams, Brian D. Mather of Albuquerque, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering and student in the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute at Virginia Tech, and Kevin M. Miller of Rohm and Haas Company.

The research is supported by the Rohm & Haas Company of Spring House, Pa.