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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

Hold the Soy Sauce, Please

It’s fairly well known that soy has lots of uses, beyond the typical soy sauce or soy milk. But how about as a replacement for polyurethane wood coatings? Instrumental Polymer Technologies LLC is developing just such a use, courtesy of $400,000 in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Randy Cameron, president of the Westlake Village coatings manufacturer, is working to create a soybean oil-based coating that reduces the amount of volatile solvents needed to apply it to wooden furniture. Volatile organics vaporize at room temperature and can be toxic. “It has all the benefits of oil, but the ease of use and ease of clean-up of a water based system without any solvents,” Cameron said. Instrumental Polymer has produced tough urethane coatings for the aviation, automotive and marine markets for 10 years under the trade name Pacapol. And its Quickstar brand of coatings has been produced for three years for microelectronics, among other uses. The company has revenue of about $1 million. The wood coating is something new and its development is funded by Small Business Innovation Research grants from the EPA. A $100,000 grant allowed Cameron to prove his concept of a soybean oil coating that can be cleaned up with water. This month, he received an additional $300,000 to further develop the coating and bring it to market. The secret is all in the molecules. In his lab, Cameron makes the wood coating from sphere-shaped macromolecules, rather than in long strings typically found in typical coatings. This helps in applying it to wood furniture because the coating is not as thick. Also, the spherical polymers have amino acids attached to them so the coating can be easily wiped up with just water. “Because of the amino acids it makes a milky solution when water is added,” Cameron said. The EPA has about $5 million to distribute through its grant program for the creation of products that reduce environmental harm. April Richards, the EPA’s program manager, said Instrumental Polymer’s innovation easily fits that criteria because the soybean-based compound does not require as much volatile organics to be effectively applied. “All these things are avoided upstream and so you do not have to deal with the negatives downstream,” Richards said. The company conducts research at its Westlake Village headquarters, while production is done at a facility in the Midwest staffed by 17 employees. Cameron said the sphere-shaped polymers also can form the base for other products, such as moisturizers “I am working with a local podiatrist for a cream for healing cracked heels,” he added. – Mark R. Madler

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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