Planet Friendlier Products, Thanks To A Protein

Harvey (Ill.) startup says it has found a way to help makers of household products, such as detergents and paints, eliminate tons of nonbiodegradable waste. Donlar Corp. is pushing polyaspartic acid as an alternative to polyacrylic acid, a key ingredient in many household items. Polyaspartic acid, a protein derived from the same family that forms seashells, is broken down by bacteria in water-treatment plants.

Building on the research of two professors from Clemson University and the University of South Alabama, Donlar has patented a process to make large quantities of the substance. First, it heats aspartic acid--a protein building-block--to around 400F. This causes the chemical to polymerize, or form long chains of itself. Next, the chains are added to a chemical base, triggering a reaction to create polyaspartic acid.

Some 25 chemical and consumer-products companies are evaluating Donlar's new product. At $2 to $5 a pound, the protein costs twice as much as polyacrylic acid. But Donlar hopes that environmental benefits will help it corner a portion of the estimated $2 billion market for polyacrylic acid.

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