Researcher Makes Foam from Biodiesel By-Product

John Davis

A researcher from The Ohio State University has found a way to make a polyurethane foam from a by-product of biodiesel.

Yebo Li, a biosystems engineer with the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster, has found a way to turn glycerin into a renewable, cheaper foam:

“Polyurethane foam made with our bio-polyol is renewable, biodegradable and its quality is comparable to petroleum-based foam,” said Jeff Schultheis, chief operating officer of Mansfield-based Poly-Green Technologies, LLC, a start-up formed to commercialize Li’s invention. “And while other bio-polyols now in the market use virgin oils, such as castor bean or soybean, we use a true waste-stream. This makes our product 5-10 percent cheaper than petroleum-based or natural oil-based foams. So we are competing not just on being ‘green,’ but also on overall quality and cost.”

In fact, the bio-polyol developed by OARDC — the research arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — has many other advantages over its competitors that make it an attractive investment: it doesn’t take away crops from food production; it can be used at 100 percent to make products such as insulation boards (other bio-polyols need to be blended with petroleum-based polyols to bring up the quality); and there’s an abundant supply of low-cost crude glycerin in the domestic and international markets.

“For every 10 gallons of biodiesel produced, there’s one gallon of crude glycerin left over,” explained Schultheis, an Ohio State alumnus originally from Zanesville, in southeastern Ohio. “In 2011, the U.S. biodiesel industry alone will be producing about 70 million gallons of crude glycerin. So there’s a lot of growth potential for this product, and we feel we will be able to enter into the polyurethane market very easily.”

Poly-Green Technologies officials hope to enter the market between July and September, a market that is worth more than $13 billion in the U.S.

Biodiesel, Research