Plastics engineer Corey Linden and his fellow researches in Columbus, Ohio, are making green headlines.
Linden, a 1996 Corry Area High School graduate, was recently featured in the Columbus Dispatch newspaper for strides he and his team from Battelle have made toward corn-based plastics that will hopefully compete (and one day replace) traditional oil-based products.
Linden, who earned his plastics engineering degree from Penn State Behrend, says his inspiration for the project came from his children.
“I started thinking about sustainability,” Linden told the Columbus Dispatch. “What kind of future my kids are going to have.”
Researches have been studying corn-based and other bio-based plastics since the 1970s.
However, the natural products tended to be brittle and opaque. Cost is another problem.
Oil-based products are relatively cheap to make, while bio-based products can cost more to produce.
Linden said the gap between cost and material quality is shrinking, however, making the prospect of using bio-based plastic more viable in products, such as food packaging, water bottles and bags.
“I think our society is realizing that you can’t have infinite growth in a finite system,” Linden told the Columbus Dispatch.
A few years ago, bio-based products were in demand. Oil prices were on the rise and the green movement was growing. Now, with the economy in a slump, companies that make plastic products are looking for cheap materials to stay afloat, Linden said.
Nevertheless, Battelle — an international science and technology company — say they will continue to shrink the cost-quality gap, knowing that demand could increase.
To make the plastic, researches first break corn down into sugars, Linden said.
These sugars are fermented to form lactic acid. From there, they make something called polyactic acid polymer.
This polymer is turned into resin pellets that can be heated and injected into pressurized molds.
Plastic made from the polymer is clear and looks like any other plastic packaging, Linden said.
One expert from the Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center at Ohio State University told the Columbus Dispatch that for every 100 pounds of the polymer that are produced instead of oil-based plastics, the energy is equivalent to about 14 gallons of gasoline saved.
Linden and his wife, Stacia, live in Columbus with their three children, Kalista, 5, Carter, 3, and Shay, 1.
He has been employed at Battelle for about six years and is the son of Hal and Jo-Ann Linden of Corry.