Aiming to reduce the plastic garbage swamping the planet, the University of Minnesota is researching more environmentally benign plastics via a $20 million grant from National Science Foundation.
The five-year grant, announced Tuesday, will fund basic research on the polymers, or molecules, used to make plastic at the university’s NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers in Minneapolis. The money will also pay for community outreach about the environmental impact of plastics through organizations such as 4-H and at the Minnesota State Fair.
The grant renews a previous National Science Foundation grant the center received in 2014. The work focuses on ways to create better plastics that are cheaper, stronger, degradable and built from renewable sources such as cellulose, soybean oil and the sugars from corn and sugar beets, said the center’s director Marc Hillmyer. One area of research is looking at additives that can improve the properties of contaminated plastic so that it can be effectively recycled.
The center said it has applied for 27 patents and spun off two startup companies: Valerian Materials in Golden Valley and CycloPure in Encinitas, Calif.