|By JANE HOUIN
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the groundbreaking of five new Ohio ethanol plants this year alone, it’s no secret that both consumers and investors are ready to jump onboard the idea of using agricultural bioproducts, like corn and soybeans, as an alternative to the use of traditional petroleum fuels and as a way to reduce our dependence on foreign fossil fuels.
But petroleum products are used for a lot more than just fueling our vehicles. They are used for a variety of specialty chemicals and polymers used everyday as well – everything from plastics and copier toners to the clothes we wear. And researching ways to use bioproducts as alternatives to these uses is where Bhima Vijayendran fits into the picture.
As a senior research leader at Battelle’s research and development headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, Vijayendran is aggressively researching ways to alleviate our petroleum dependency using soybeans. In fact, Vijayendran’s research team has already developed several ways to replace petroleum with soy in products like hand cleaners and office toners, but they feel there is much more on the horizon.
“Interest in biofuels has helped to develop industrial products for consumer markets to make the biorefinery model become real and economically viable,” said Vijayendran, who was named Battelle’s Inventor of the Year in 2004 and had authored more than 50 U.S. patents. “One needs to develop value-added products from all components of feedstock used in biofuel, just as in a petroleum refinery, to have a viable and economically sustainable biofuel alternative.”
According to the Department of Energy, petroleum-based products make up 5 percent of oil consumption in the United States. While that number may not seem like a lot, it adds up to over 1 million barrels of oil each day.
“I have always been interested in economically viable, sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies, and at Battelle, we have been very active in bioproducts from renewable resources such as soybean and corn for many years,” said Vijayendran, who received his bachelor and masters degrees in chemical technology from the University of Madras before earning his PhD in polymer and surface science from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and his MBA from the University of Hew Haven in Connecticut.
“This led me and our team to work on soy-based industrial products with support from the Ohio Soybean Council and the United Soybean Board through their checkoff program.”
In 2001 the OSC recognized Vijayendran for his soybean research work with the Outstanding Achievement Award. He was also awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award in 2003 by the United Soybean Board.
Working with the OSC, Vijayendran has helped develop soy-based, de-inkable toner for office copiers that result in easier recycling of used papers as well as soy-based polymers, adhesives, plasticizers for polymer resins and even soy-based tofu.
Already, Battelle scientists have developed a soy-based wood adhesive that performs better than traditional adhesives while also being less expensive and reducing energy costs.
They have also produced lactide polymer from fermentation processes for use in the manufacturing of biodegradable polymers and developed Soyl - a biodegradable, water-based industrial hand cleaner that is finding excellent market penetration as a “green” substitute for chlorinated solvent-based cleaners.
Some of the most promising areas of research for bioproduct uses that Vijayendran is currently researching include industrial products for the plastic, coatings and transportation industries to replace fossil sources of feedstock.
Vijayendran says that research adds up to benefits to farmers in both new markets for their crops as well as more stable prices for soybeans and corn.
The goal is for these biobased products to improve the triple bottom line for businesses: improving economic, environmental and social implications of their products and processes. Vijayendran’s team hopes to develop and design products that deliver greater value with fewer resources.
For more information about Battelle, visit www.battelle.org/
This farm news was published in the Jan. 3, 2007 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.