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Clemson University spin-off uses corn to make plastics, provide cleaner air

CLEMSON -- Tetramer Technologies, LLC is adding corn to plastic containers -- and cars, airplanes and golf clubs -- while creating jobs along the way.

The Pendleton-based Clemson University spin-off company received a $100,000 Phase I Small Business Innovative Research award (SBIR) from the National Science Foundation to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of plastics partially derived from renewable sources like corn. This award builds on a previously earned Phase II $500,000 and two SBIR $100,000 grants received from the NSF small business program.

Most plastics, varnishes and packaging foams are made from oil-based chemicals, which are derived from petroleum. Stiffer environmental regulations and consumer conscience are driving the search for materials that are recyclable, renewable and less polluting. Polylactic acid is a byproduct of corn. It currently is used in some pill coatings and sutures because it easily dissolves -- a property not desirable in drink containers, boat coatings and packaging.

Clemson University professor Dennis Smith and his research group have found a new way to replace up to 50 percent of the chemicals that make regular plastics with polylactic acid. The end product is a plastic that has both the environmental friendliness of the corn-based product and the durability of regular plastics. Potentially, this new material could reduce by 5 billion pounds per year the amount of single-use, nonbiodegradable plastics discarded by consumers. And reduce the air pollutants from plants that produce plastics for everything from cars to airplanes to golf clubs.

"By finding commercial applications for Clemson research, Tetramer is fueling South Carolina's knowledge-based economy," said Earl H. Wagener, CEO of Tetramer. "We're creating jobs that will help keep the top researchers coming out of the university in the Upstate."

This NSF grant allowed Tetramer to hire three more employees, bringing total employment to ei
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Contact: Earl Wagener
earl.wagener@tetramertechnologies.com
864-650-0430
Clemson University
20-Aug-2004


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