Sustainable Materials

Due to continued concern over environmental impact and sustainability of materials, poly(hydroxyalkanoates) (PHAs), a family of bacterial polyesters, have been growing in popularity. PHAs have properties comparable to the conventional plastic polypropylene (PP), with the added benefits of biodegradability, biorenewability, and no toxicity. However, they have a narrow thermal processing window and poor mechanical properties that limit its application. In collaboration with the Civil Engineering and Chemistry Departments, we are focused on enhancing the processability of PHAs for applications in construction materials via chemical modification, physical blending, processing additives, and understanding thermodynamics to optimize processing conditions. Specifically, we use extrusion, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), and other techniques to produce and characterize biodegradable PHA foams for insulation and structural applications.