Universities, Institutes & Labs

MSU Develops Styrene Alternative with PLA

Research at Michigan State University is developing new styrene-free bio renewable resins with broad applicability in the construction of countertops, bathroom fixtures, windmill blades, and boats.

The research is from the team of John Dorgan, the Lamp Endowed Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.

Dorgan’s third-year graduate student Harshal Bambhania took the team’s research to Marblecraft, a marble manufacturing company in Fowlerville, near East Lansing, earlier this year to cast a prototype of a “Drop-in-bowl” to modernize vanity and kitchen counters.

Bambhania said the prototype is more resource renewable than current products made of petroleum-based polyester dissolved in styrene.

“Presently, unsaturated polyester resins are used extensively in fiberglass composites for boat building, kitchen and bathroom countertops, and sinks from cultured stone,” he explained. “However, there is a growing awareness that styrene has several shortcomings. It is not based on renewable resources, is a volatile organic compound, and indicated as a potential human carcinogen.”

To overcome these limitations, the Dorgan research group including Bambhania; post-doc Bin Tan; and two former students at the Colorado School of Mines – Christopher Moran and Dylan Cousin – developed a bio renewable resin system formulated using poly(lactide) (PLA) and methyl methacrylate.

“Preliminary calculations show a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) compared to current technologies,” Bambhania said.

Work on the project is continuing this summer. Bambhania said various mechanical tests, including tensile properties and the Rockwell hardness test, along with environmental testing (scratch and stain test, hot/cold water-resistance, etc.) will be conducted according to the appropriate ASTM standards.

Dorgan noted that research on Sustainable Sinks and Countertops is often done remotely from MSU’s St. Andrews in Midland. The ability to do MSU research at the Midland campus is as innovative as the research itself, he said.

“Harshal (MS, chemical engineering, ’11) and his wife, Deboleena Chakraborty (PhD, chemical engineering ’10) met in graduate school at MSU. Harshal is helping raise his two daughters, Harleen, 4, and Ashleen, 1, while Deboleena works as a research scientist at Dow.

“This unique and family-friendly environment was facilitated by Paul Hunt, a senior associate vice president for research and innovation, and supported by Engineering Dean Leo Kempel and ChEMS Department Chair Don Morelli. I’m thrilled that MSU enabled this level of creative accomplishment,” Dorgan added.

PhD student Harshal Bambhania
PhD student Harshal Bambhania


MSU chemical engineer developing styrene-free bio renewable resins


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