two guys with flasks
A research partnership provided funding for Purdue engineers Bernie Tao (left) and Jason Weiss, who developed a soy-based, biodegradable concrete sealant. Financial support from collaborators makes research like this possible.

Th​e Common Good

Research collaborations
tackle 
public problems

 

Bernie Tao suspected soy biodiesel was good for more than just powering cars and trucks, but little did the Purdue University agricultural engineer realize that another potential use was the pavement underneath those vehicles.

In his quest to identify new biodiesel uses, Tao began comparing notes with friend and Purdue civil engineer Jason Weiss. Some six years of research later, the two have developed a repellant that greatly reduces the ability of water and other compounds to penetrate concrete and cause cracking and chipping under winter freeze/thaw conditions. The sealant shows promise as an environmentally friendly alternative to similar products applied to concrete during road construction.

“There is a very large market for sealants of this kind,” Tao says. “This application alone could consume every ounce of biodiesel we produce.”

“And it doesn't easily wear off or leach out,” Weiss adds. “Unlike other materials, concern about runoff or overspray is reduced because the sealant is biodegradable.”

Team Players

The project is one example of how Purdue Agriculture teams up with companies, organizations, foundations and government agencies to tackle public problems on everything from crop science to consumer behavior.

Tao’s and Weiss’s research might have reached a dead end, so to speak, were it not for the support of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, Irving Materials Inc. and the Indiana Department of Transportation. That support helped cover research expenses and additional technical expertise. It also provided the Purdue engineers access to public roads.

“We’re testing the sealant on U.S. 231 in Lafayette and on a highly traveled street in Fishers,” Tao says. “This research couldn’t have moved forward without the support of our collaborators, as well as the Town of Fishers and Berns Construction.”

In the 2012 fiscal year, Purdue Agriculture will receive $61.6 million in sponsored funds from all sources for 1,219 research projects.

Funding from industry and foundations alone represents $6.7 million, more than double what industry and foundations provided in 2001. Collaborators range from large international corporations such as Procter & Gamble and Nestlé to smaller regional companies like Hoosier Energy.

Purdue researchers discovered a soy biodiesel-based sealant that reduces cracking and chipping of concrete during winter freeze/thaw conditions.
Purdue researchers discovered a soy biodiesel-based sealant that reduces cracking and chipping of concrete during winter freeze/thaw conditions.

Put It in Writing

Sponsorship dollars are the lifeblood of research at land-grant universities like Purdue, says Karen Plaut, director of Purdue Agricultural Research Programs and associate dean of agriculture. While tax dollars offset faculty salaries and some infrastructure, the financial support from collaborators makes the research itself possible.

Such research usually involves an issue a collaborator brings to Purdue. It might be a question about a product in development or a problem the collaborator hopes can be solved through scientific inquiry.

Before research begins, the collaborator signs a sponsored research agreement that outlines the terms of the partnership with Purdue Agriculture and preserves the integrity of the research. Purdue Agriculture maintains a right to publish research findings, while collaborators maintain a right to have proprietary information kept confidential.

All for One and One for All

Plaut says the sponsored research program works well.

“Everybody benefits from these collaborations,” she says. “Purdue Agriculture is able to do important research that helps the people of Indiana and around the world. Collaborators are able to get unbiased, science-based solutions to issues they bring to us. And Purdue students often get to work with collaborators, which sometimes leads to jobs after graduation.”

Rob Hochstetler, Hoosier Energy’s vice president of power production, says supporting Purdue research has been money well spent. He says research involving poplar trees by Rick Meilan, associate professor of molecular tree physiology, has provided Hoosier Energy important insights into future electric generation.

“The work Dr. Meilan is conducting has the potential to develop a woody biomass crop that may be economically feasible to turn into a renewable source of electricity,” Hochstetler says.

That also holds true for the research by Tao and Weiss, says Ryan West, director of new uses for the Indiana Soybean Alliance.

“We’re evaluating the concrete sealant for commercial launch and looking into various other applications in the concrete business, such as brick and mortar, and aggregate applications,” West says.

And, in the process, serving the people of Indiana.

Additional Resources

Put a tree in your tank? Ethanol research centers on poplars​

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