September 29, 2020  | CBS News, Denver, CO

Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden have invented a new polyurethane that originates from algae, waste grease, or natural oils. The “greener” polyurethane eliminates health-damaging toxins inherent with the current petroleum-based polyurethane. Polyurethane is a type of plastic developed in the 1950s. Its uses range from wood finishes, adhesives, sprayable foams and synthetic clothing fibers.

Former BSE/WSU graduate student, Dr. Tao Dong, an alumnus of the Shulin Chen lab, is working on the bio-based, nontoxic polyurethane resin, together with former intern Stephanie Federle. This is a promising alternative to conventional polyurethane. Tao states that the lab has demonstrated that the chemistry is tunable. He also says that now the lab can control the final performance through their unique approach.

Phil Pienkos, a former chemist from NREL, adds that traditional methods of producing polyurethane rely upon toxic chemicals and non-renewable petroleum. The goal of the lab was to develop a new plastic with all the useful properties of conventional polyurethane but lacking the costly environmental effects.

Chen states that Tao has been collaborating with his lab here at WSU’s Biological Systems Engineering. This year, he and Tao worked together to develop a major proposal for the DOE. Tao has also indicated a willingness to offer internship opportunities at NREL for BSE students.

Source: Local CBS News in Denver, CO.