David Grewell is assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and the chair of the Biopolymers and Biocomposites Research Team at Iowa State University. The research team, which operates under the Center for Crops Utilization Research (CCUR) umbrella, was founded to develop new uses for Iowa crops. The team of researchers includes faculty members in the agricultural and biosystems engineering, natural resource ecology and management, chemistry, materials science, and architecture and design departments.

Iowa State University's David Grewell discusses how his team creates composites out of local crops

Iowa State University’s David Grewell discusses how his team creates composites out of local crops

What is your primary research focus?

My research is primarily focused on using soy protein. Right now we’re trying to find applications that are well suited for short-term plastics. For instance, we’re working on using these materials for plant pots so when they degrade, they release amino acids and nitrogen and self-fertilize the plant.

How do you determine where to focus research efforts?

We pick applications that we want to degrade in one to four months, though we do have a couple formulations that could last 12 to 16 months. We might add coconut fiber, cotton fiber or cellulose fibers to make the composite stronger than the resin itself.

What are some other applications you’re working on?

We’re working on a composite application for a lubrication stick that is 100 percent biodegradable. These sticks will be useful in areas such as the railroad industry. When a train goes around a corner, one wheel is going to slide relative to the rail because it’s a solid axle. The lubrication stick comes down to reduce the chatter and wear.

How are you funded?

Right now we have multiple funding sources such as state funds made to increase business opportunities in the state of Iowa. Our work is also supplemented by industry funds. Companies like Creative Composites, the Vereer Corporation and the Soy Works company have all cash matched product research, and we’re also funded through the United Soybean Board.