Research conducted in my lab is concentrated in developing new uses for plant proteins and corn starch. When successful, this research will provide farmers, and processors of agricultural commodities, with a higher value revenue stream. The products from this research will have a smaller carbon footprint than the petroleum based products which they will replace.
Most of our protein work has involved the protein that is present in the bulk of the corn kernel (endosperm). This protein is called zein. In order for industry to use zein in new products, an improved understanding of each step in the value chain is needed. To that end we have performed, and continue to perform, research on all phases of the potential zein value chain -
A. Zein Isolation
B. Zein Characterization
C. Zein Variability
D. Zein Article production
a. Solution Processing
b. Melt Processing
In addition we have initiated efforts at developing valued products from proteins from other plants such as pennycress and alfalfa.
Our research that is being conducted using corn starch has dealt with controlling the architecture of starch graft co-polymers. Traditionally, researchers have grafted various monomers onto starch, however, only limited attempts were made to control the molecular weight of these grafts and even fewer research efforts have been performed at controlling the frequency of grafts along the starch chain - in essence the number of glucose units between grafts. We have shown that solvent selection can play a large role in graft density along the starch polymer.