Public Release: 

ICPB locks in license to improve plastics with corn

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

RICHLAND, Wash. - The Iowa Corn Promotion Board, ICPB, has signed its first commercial license with Battelle to produce a new plastic additive made from corn that offers a variety of commercial advantages. Battelle operates the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory based in Richland, Wash., where the research will occur.

The compound, isosorbide, can be used to improve the properties of plastic materials such as bottles. Research has shown the corn-based isosorbide will make these plastic bottles more rigid and stronger than the regular plastic bottles. The preliminary cost estimates show that isosorbide from this technology is competitive with petroleum based building blocks used to make plastics.

Commercializing this product will provide benefits to the consumer and the grower. "The use of renewable corn derived isosorbide will reduce the amount of petroleum necessary to make plastics. Incorporating isosorbide into plastic will improve the properties of the plastic and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said PNNL Program Manager for Bioproducts, Todd Werpy.

ICPB entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with PNNL to develop this process for converting corn into isosorbide. ICPB funded its tasks under the CRADA with Iowa corn checkoff investment funds while PNNL's tasks were funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "The grower will benefit by creating new uses for corn and new jobs for rural economies. Isosorbide could consume another 30 to 40 million bushels of corn annually," said ICPB Director of Research and Regulatory Affairs, Rod Williamson.

"We have made a commitment to developing cost-effective processes for obtaining high-value chemicals from biomass," said Werpy. "The key is to make a low-cost product that will compete in a petroleum-based plastic market."

"This license is one of several pieces of technology that are necessary to make this a commercial success. The next step is to sublicense the new technology," added Williamson.


The Iowa Corn Promotion Board, a 17-member board of farmer-elected corn growers, directs the investment of Iowa corn checkoff funds in market development, education and research projects.

PNNL ( is a DOE Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs more than 4,000, has a $650 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.

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