Corn-derived Materials: Isoprene/Rubber and Toughened Poly(lactide)

University of Minnesota/Dr. Marc Hillmyer, Dr. Paul Dauenhauer, Dr. Frank Bates

In the Dauenhauer group the proposed work aims to evaluate the catalytic conversion of sugar to isoprene using thermochemical solid-acid catalysts. Glucose obtained from corn can be reacted to the intermediate itaconic acid, which is hydrogenated to 3-methyl-tetrahydrofuran (3-MTHF). 3-MTHF then undergoes catalytic dehydra-decyclization to form isoprene product and water. In this work, the reaction to produce isoprene will be evaluated using all-silica solid acid catalysts, with the objective of maximizing yield and process economics for producing isoprene.

Poly(lactide) (PLA) is a commodity plastic produced by polymerizing lactide monomer, which comes from a process of fermenting sugar derived from corn. This material has many desirable and commercially important properties, including stiffness, tractable glass transition and melting temperatures, optical clarity, and thermal processability. A recent discovery by Bates and coworkers revealed that nanoscale block copolymer micelles could be dispersed in commercial PLA using either solvent casting or melt blending approaches. The resulting nanocomposites exhibited remarkable toughness in tension and Izod impact tests. This project will explore the fundamental thermodynamic principles that govern mixing of block copolymers and PLA and explore the mechanisms responsible for imparting mechanical toughness.