In late March, Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) received patents for its creation of a biopolyol made from crude glycerin, which is a mostly discarded by-product of biodiesel production.
By mixing glycerin with other biomass, OARDC has successfully produced a renewable, biodegradeable source for making polyurethane foam. A newly formed company, Mansfield, Ohio–based Poly-Green Technologies, is now testing the waters to see just how commercially applicable this product might be.
Poly-Green is an offshoot of Arlington Products, a subsidiary of Arlington Energy, which for the past two years has been funding biopolyol research that Yebo Li, a biosystems engineer at OARDC, has been working on. Jeff Schultheis, Poly-Green’s COO, says Yi’s concoction is the only pure-waste biopolyol (compared to other products that derive from virgin oils or soybeans).
It seems there’s plenty of this plant waste available. Schultheis told OSU Extension that for every 10 gallons of biodiesel produced, one gallon of crude glycerin is left over, and the U.S. biodiesel industry will produce about 70 million gallons of glycerin this year. The U.S. consumes 2.8 million tons of polyurethane foam annually, most of it made from petroleum-based sources.
Schultheis tells Builder that Yi has been conducting his research in a factory that supplies parts to Honda, which is fitting because a potential application for biopolyol is to blend it with an oil-based polymer to make automotive seat covers. Poly-Green has already signed a supply agreement with Gerard Thomas, a leading auto-parts wholesaler.
Poly-Green has also retained Atlanta-based supply-chain consultant Strategic Associates to help market biopolyol to manufacturers of such products as rigid insulation. “We’ve just started our conversations with the construction industry,” says sales manager Ernie Malas. Its “serious” contacts, so far, included two national appliance makers that are considering using biopolyol for insulation boards at the backs of their refrigerators. Malas and Schultheis believe suppliers of backerboard for new construction will also be interested.
Poly-Green can produce 1.5 million gallons of biopolyol per year at its 28,000-square-foot plant in Mansfield, whose capacity expanded with the addition of a 500-gallon reactor. This spring it signed a lease on a 20,000-square-foot plant in Galveston, Texas, much of whose annual production—which Schultheis says could be anywhere from 3 million to 15 million gallons, depending on demand—is earmarked for a Korean manufacturer.
Schultheis expects his private-equity financed company to enter the polyurethane market this summer and sell at least one million gallons per year in its first two years, and five million in each of the following three years.