Issue Date: January 31, 2011
ACS Award For Affordable Green Chemistry
Making lightweight yet hurricane-resistant roofing out of recycled newspapers, chicken feathers, and soybean-derived plastics. Enabling John Deere to manufacture tractor parts with composite resins derived from plant oils. Enticing Intel to test the use of chicken feathers as a raw material in the production of circuit board materials. Doing all these, Richard P. Wool has been busy.
For more than 15 years, he has led a highly productive research program at the University of Delaware that has generated affordable green technologies that address the sustainability challenges facing the plastics and materials industries. Wool heads what is perhaps the most intensive effort since the days of Henry Ford’s all-soy car to turn vegetable oils into high-performance materials with automotive applications.
Wool is director of the university’s Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources program. His quest to develop materials from renewable resources has led him to incorporate principles of green chemistry into a multidisciplinary effort spanning chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, and materials science, a senior government official familiar with his work says.
There are many benefits to using renewable materials such as vegetable oils and bird feathers in the making of plastics, the official points out. Besides their sustainability, vegetable oils are inherently nonhazardous, resulting in safer manufacturing conditions compared with those involving petrochemical polymers. Some of Wool’s polymers can replace phenolic materials and therefore reduce exposure to formaldehyde, he adds. Other materials designed by Wool and his group are biocompatible and can be applied to wound healing.
The holder of a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from the University of Utah, Wool has been a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Delaware since 1994. He is author of the books “Bio-Based Polymers and Composites”—which he cowrote with X. Susan Sun in 2005—and “Polymer Interfaces: Structure and Strength,” published in 1995. He also has published many peer-reviewed papers that together have been cited more than 3,100 times.
One of Wool’s most promising technologies is a new type of hurricane-resistant roofing that “has the potential to become the country’s highest-volume application of biobased composite materials,” according to an academic familiar with Wool’s work. The roofing is made mostly from old newspapers, chicken feathers, and soybean-based plastics fitted into lightweight roof material that also offers high thermal insulation, she says.
More recently, he developed nontoxic foams that are 96% biobased and designed to replace polyurethanes made from toluene diisocyanates. The foams can be used in packaging or home insulation, Wool says.
Although broadly focused on green materials, Wool’s research interests are eclectic. He is currently interested in hydrogen storage, nanomaterials, pressure-sensitive materials, the twinkling fractal theory of the glass transition, and making carbon fibers from chicken feathers, among others.
Wool will present the award address before the ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry.
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