If two University of Missouri-Rolla chemistry students have their way, soybeans will one day line Missouri’s highways — literally.
Kylee Hyzer, a sophomore from Joilet, Ill., and Kyle Anderson, a senior from California, Mo., are using what they call "green chemistry" to turn soybean oil into an environmentally friendly, renewable paint for trafficways.
Unlike current acrylic paints, the soybean paint is produced without any waste in a one-step, one-pot process.
"Basically what goes into the pot comes out as the useable final product. There are no hazardous by-products that must be disposed of properly," says Anderson, who spends his summers working as a chemical intern for the Missouri Department of Transportation in Jefferson City. "Also, our emulsion releases less ammonia vapor, which causes problems for factory workers who process the emulsions into the final traffic coating."
The new coating system design is based on a water-based acrylic polymer prepared from the soybean oil product that serves as a major component of a traffic paint formulation. The paint would be applied about the same way as traffic paints currently are.
Under the direction of Dr. Harvest Collier, vice provost for graduate and undergraduate studies and professor of chemistry at UMR, the students are trying to remove the saturated components that currently makes the paint waxy.
"The salad oil industry already does this using expensive equipment," Hyzer explains. "They slowly freeze a mixture so that the fatty parts can be separated out. We also need to be able to slowly freeze the paint so we can remove the saturated components."
Their work is funded by UMR’s Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience Program, which allows undergraduate students to work with faculty on joint research projects.