Honors Gallery

Biopolymer alternatives to pretroleum-based polymers for soil modification

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2011

Award Type:

Region: Southeast

USACE - ERDC - Environmental Laboratory

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center- Environmental Laboratory (ERDC-EL) recently concluded the successful transfer of a proprietary industrial process for producing the salt of the biopolymer created from the natural bacteria, R. tropici. This transfer to the private sector presents an opportunity to displace a broad range of petroleum-based products currently used as soil amendments, dust suppressants, erosion inhibitors, and more.

This technology transfer success story encompasses three major technological breakthroughs, all centered on broadening the applications of the R. tropici biopolymer. The first breakthrough is a novel means of producing the biopolymer in much larger quantities than previously possible. The second breakthrough is the ability to produce the biopolymer as a concentrated, stable salt, which facilitates and reduces the cost of transportation. The third breakthrough is the ability to chemically alter the biopolymer’s structure to enhance its capabilities pertinent to different applications. Together, these three innovations are transforming this natural biopolymer from an interesting substance in the laboratory into a product capable of replacing its petroleum-based counterparts on a broad scale in a number of highly diverse applications.

The production process and the ability to alter the biopolymer’s characteristics are covered under a pending patent. Through the efforts of the ERDC-EL team both in the laboratory and promoting the technology, the biopolymer and its production process have been licensed exclusively to UXB International for application on training grounds and firing ranges. A second company, Environment Research & Development, Inc., has two nonexclusive licenses for an array of applications, including soil and slope stabilization, dust suppression, water and wind erosion, chelation of heavy metals in soil and water, and some intriguing security applications. And a third company, Environmental Technology Solutions, LLC, has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with ERDC-EL to explore the biopolymer’s use in agriculture, ecological sustainability relating to land desertification resulting from energy-production activities, and several humanitarian applications.