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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Nike, PUMA in Talks with Chemist Revolutionizing Bio-Based Materials

University of Delaware professor Dr. Richard Wool is setting about revolutionizing bio-based materials for a wide variety of applications. The professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering — who is also director of UD’s Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources (ACRES) program — has already developed safer chemical adhesives, composites, foams and circuit boards from renewable resources through processes that require less water and energy to produce and create less hazardous waste compared to petroleum-based processes, according to Science Daily.

"Finding low-toxicity replacements for commodity plastics such as polystyrene and PVC, adhesives, foams and composite resins, in addition to leather-like materials, must be a priority if we are to benefit the environment and human health," said Wool told Science Daily.

Speaking of leather — Wool’s startup, Eco Leather Corp., has created several high-performance materials using bio-based feedstocks, including vegetable oils, lignin, chicken feathers and flax. One such material is a bio-based leather substitute that doesn’t require the traditional, toxic leather-tanning process, which has captured the attention of Nike, PUMA and other companies interested in using the fabric in their shoes and apparel. Wool also shares a patent with Nike on the development of its new environmentally friendly air bubbles for use in athletic shoes.

"Ten years ago, green chemistry and engineering was a novel concept, but today, we are reaching a critical mass of individuals focused on sustainability and the environment," said Wool. "This award lends credibility to what we are doing, and my hope is that it will cause some to give us a second look."

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Aside from the obvious benefits to cows and the environment at large, Wool told Fast Company last month that incorporating chicken feathers also helps divert an often-wasted product and helps cut associated disposal costs for agribusiness companies – the chemist noted that a company had offered him 2 billion pounds of feathers for free to avoid the cost of disposal.

In December, the Environmental Protection Agency presented Wool with its Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for his work developing bio-based materials to support the green energy infrastructure.

Both Nike and PUMA have pioneered the use of sustainable textiles in their shoes and apparel: PUMA's InCycle Collection, launched last year, is the brand’s first full collection of closed-loop, 100% Cradle-to-Cradle Basic certifiedCM footwear, apparel and accessories, made with biodegradable polymers, recycled polyester and organic cotton in order to eliminate pesticides, chemical fertilizers and other hazardous chemicals; and Nike's ColorDry process eliminates the use of water and chemicals from fabric dyeing, and is both more efficient and consistent than traditional, resource-intensive dyeing methods, according to the company.


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