South Dakota State University, Iowa State University, and ethanol company Midwest Grain Processors Corp., Lakota, Iowa, are teaming up to create environmentally friendly plastics, fibers, and films from a corn by-product. James Julson, SDSU associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, says the goal is to develop products from distillers' dried grains, or DDG, a by-product of ethanol production from corn.

The project calls for first extracting high-valued oils and proteins from the DDG. Scientists will use thermal gasification on the remaining DDG product to produce "syngas" a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The syngas serves as feedstock for anaerobic fermentation in which microorganisms feed on the carbon monoxide to produce the biopolymer polyhydroxyalkonates, or PHA. "PHAs are polyester biopolymers that have potential applications in the manufacture of degradable plastics, synthetic fibers, and films," says Julson.