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CLOTHING FROM CORNFIELDS

Clothing from cornfields? DuPont scientists have recently developed an innovative bio-based method that uses corn instead of conventional petroleum-based processes to produce the latest polymer platform for use in clothing, carpets and automobile interiors.

DuPont scientist Dr. Scott Nichols will unveil the latest findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting and science innovation exposition here. Nichols’ presentation, Engineering Microbes for the Production of 1,3-Propanediol Creating DuPont Sorona® Polymer of the Future from Corn.

Traditionally, fibers are petroleum-based materials. DuPont, with joint development partner Genencor International, developed a bio-based method that uses renewable resources instead of typical petrochemicals. Through metabolic engineering of biochemical pathways, a microorganism was engineered to use sugars from corn and corn biomass in a fermentation-based process. From annually renewable agricultural products, DuPont can now produce 1,3 propanediol (PDO), the key building block for DuPont Sorona® the company’s newest polymer platform.

The unique technical properties of Sorona® are derived from a unique, semi-crystalline molecular structure featuring a pronounced kink. When stress is exerted on the molecule, strain deformation occurs first in its crystalline, lower modulus regions. As stress is released, the crystalline structure locks in, allowing a complete recovery to the initial shape. In conjunction with this distinctive characteristic, Sorona® fiber offers additional advantages over both polyester and nylon: it has a softer feel and supports easier, more versatile dyeability with excellent washfastness and UV resistance.

Currently, DuPont uses a petrochemical process in Kinston, N.C., to produce the Sorona® polymer. The company expects to announce transition plans to the new bio-based process later this year.

At the AAAS meeting, Nichols will provide an overview of the fermentation-based PDO initiative and highlight key success factors in the research and development phases, including the value of collaborative partnerships. The focus of his presentation will be on the development of bio-routes via fermentation of renewable resources.

Until now, most fibers have been produced using a petroleum-based process, Nichols said. Now, after seven years of research in conjunction with Genencor International, we have honed a bio-based process, using renewable resources like corn and new abilities of E.coli to deliver an organism that can reliably produce PDO. The organism converts renewable corn sugar into reliably pure, consistent, and commercially viable amounts of PDO. The path to bio-based Sorona® combines the emerging metabolic engineering discipline with the premiere polymer science capabilities of DuPont.

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Written by: DuPont


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