Public Release: 

University of Southern Mississippi polymer researchers awarded $450,000 grant

University of Southern Mississippi

HATTIESBURG,MS -- The potential for a new industry in Mississippi -- one that employs Mississippians and uses raw materials from Mississippi -- has helped the University of Southern Mississippi land an economic development grant.

The Mississippi Development Authority, through its Industries of the Future program, has awarded USM a $450,000 grant to help get an agricultural-based, environmentally friendly paint to market.

Under the grant agreement, the MDA's Energy Division and USM will work to develop a latex industry, a soy-based paint industry and several ancillary businesses. Existing agricultural industries will be expanded and enhanced through crop diversification and cooperative initiatives to support the new industries.

The grant will also help in continued product development, marketing, production facility design and workforce training, as well as educating the state's farmers about crops the new industry can use.

"It takes a great deal of effort to start a business, and this grant will help us move toward that goal," said Dr. Shelby Thames, who led a team of USM researchers who developed the paint, which is being marketed as American Pride. The first shipment of the paint was shipped earlier this month to Washington D.C., where it will be used to paint interior walls in the Pentagon.

In developing the paint, Southern Miss researchers, under Thames's direction, developed a monomer, a chemical building block, from an agricultural product that is built into the chemical base of the paint. The monomer takes the place of a solvent in the formulation of the paint. That, in turn, dramatically reduces the amount of toxic pollutants -- volatile organic compounds (VOCs) -- given off by water-based paint into the atmosphere.

"The bottom line is this technology uses castor oil, soybean oil or lesquerella oil to allow us to make latex polymers that have wide applications," Thames said. "Not just paints, but inks, adhesives, carpet backings, coating for fibers, coatings for concrete steel, just a huge potential for applications. And we can make these coating systems that have no odor and release no pollutants into the atmosphere."

Wes Miller, technical assistance manager for MDA's Energy Division, which administers the Industries of the Future program, said he first heard about the USM paint when he listened to an interview of Thames on his car radio. The project, he said, sounded like a great fit for the Industries of the Future program, and for Mississippi.

"This is an environmentally friendly product that can benefit the state," Miller said. "It uses a crop that is already grown in the state and another crop that can be grown here."

The task of producing the paint has fallen to Southern Diversified Products, which has contracted with USM to market the monomer that is the chemical foundation of the paint. Southern Diversified Products was formed under an arrangement made possible by the Mississippi University Research Act, which allows university researchers to market the results of their work under an agreement with the university and the state College Board. Southern Miss holds all of the patents on the monomer research and will receive royalties on those patents. Thames said there are currently six patents on the project, and predicts there could be as many as 20 by the time the research runs its course.

Under the grant agreement, MDA's Energy Division work with USM to provide technical assistance for the construction of energy efficient processes and buildings. The Energy Division's Biomass Council will work with the university to encourage and educate farmers to use energy-saving technology to produce soybeans and castor beans for paint production.

"From the farming side, we will look at the efficiency of growing a new crop, and how much it cost to produce," Miller said. "We think the farmers will be supportive. We are talking about a new cash crop."

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