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MicroGREEN Polymers, Inc.

Arlington (located in Stanwood during a WTC affilation)

RTD Award: Phase I

Research Partner: Vipin Kumar, Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, University of Washington

Project Began: 2006

Disposable food packaging is an $11 billion market. MicroGREEN Polymers, in partnership with Dr. Vipin Kumar and researchers at the University of Washington's Microcellular Plastics Lab, developed a patented technology used to create and manufacture environmentally-friendly plastic disposable food packaging made from recycled PET. The team received $211,000 in funding from WTC in 2003-2005 for feasibility testing and to develop prototypes. The success of this project led the company to expand its employment base and secure $2.5 million in private funding. In addition to food packaging, MicroGREEN's 100-percent recycled PET foam can be used as packing material for medical devices, electronic parts and other products. The research team is applying this new grant towards developing solid state process parameters for making biodegradable poly lactic acid (PLA) foam. PLA is a renewable, natural starch-based material, which is receiving highly-favorable response from the food packaging industry. Currently, PLA is used to package cold foods. MicroGREEN plans to apply its solid-state microcellular process expertise towards developing heat-resistant PLA products to complement its existing line of environmentally-friendly packaging.

Researcher: Dr. Vipin Kumar, UW Dept. of Mechanical Engineering

Project Began: 2003

Disposable food packaging made from plastics and paper is an $11 billion market. While paper food packaging costs considerably more than conventional plastic foam, it is favored due to environmental and health concerns regarding traditional polystyrene foam.

Conventional foaming processes use fluorocarbon or hydrocarbon fuels. Both have a negative impact on the environment: fluorocarbons deplete the ozone, while hydrocarbons create smog. Out of the 25 worst-polluting plants in the U.S. named by the Sierra Club, 12 are foam plants. Widespread foaming processes also chemically change plastic, thereby rendering it commercially nonrecyclable.

MicroGREEN Polymers is a start-up company commercializing microcellular plastics technology developed with Dr. Kumar at the University of Washington's Microcellular Plastics Lab. The company is developing and testing production of environmentally friendly plastic disposable food packaging, such as cups and trays. MicroGREEN's foamed materials use recycled CO2 gas and 100-percent recycled plastic, and are tougher and stronger than traditional foam plastic. Their foaming process will reduce plastic usage by at least 75 percent, compared with solid plastic packaging.

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