The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published this week a new patent application (U.S. 62/345,399) from the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) adding to a previously issued U.S. patent on a proprietary production method using corn in the industrial manufacturing of a raw material called monoethylene glycol (MEG). MEG is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of antifreeze, plastic bottles for pop or bottled water, and polyester clothes. Today, MEG makes up about 30 percent of the bottles and polyester. The patent covers an improvement in the process conditions to increase efficiency from approximately 60 percent to 85 percent yield.
“Production efficiencies that drive yield while reducing cost drive success - this holds true in manufacturing as well as in farming,” said Pete Brecht, a farmer from Central City who chairs Iowa Corn’s Research and Business Development Committee. “Patenting research that improves production efficiencies of corn-based bio-MEG helps us eliminate the need for petroleum-based ethylene derivatives. This creates more environmentally friendly consumer bioplastic products and increases demand for Iowa corn farmers.”
The current way bio-MEG is made is through a conversion of sugarcane ethanol, which is usually sourced from Brazil, to ethylene, but still the majority of MEG comes from fossil fuels. ICPB’s patented process can eliminate the added costs of bio-MEG by going from corn sugar to MEG in one step.
Most MEG currently goes into making polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic used for beverage bottles, polyester textiles, and films, but MEG can also be used as anti-freeze, coolants, aircraft deicers and industrial solvents. Plastic companies are currently making limited quantities of bottles utilizing biobased MEG made from sugarcane-based ethanol imported from South America. In 2016, 62 billion pounds of MEG were sold. The market continues to grow at the rate of about four percent a year and that four percent equates to about 94 million bushels of corn.
Investment of checkoff dollars in research and business development allows for a direct return on Iowa corn farmer investments. Consequently, ICPB research programs have continued to grow. ICPB research programs aim to find new and innovative uses of corn, such as plastics and industrial chemicals. ICPB develops and licenses intellectual property to partner with companies; this strategy will increase the commercialization of new products related to corn and create new opportunities for corn farmers.
The Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB), works to develop and defend markets, fund research, and provide education about corn and corn products.