Biomaterials Professor Kevin Edgar was awarded an $800,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund research on developing new methods for cellulose synthesis. Cellulose from trees and other plants is used in drug delivery systems and in a wide variety of commercial products, including adhesive tape, laundry detergents, and latex paints. The dwindling availability of petroleum supplies has led to intense interest in biobased fuels and materials. Cellulose derivatives are especially promising because of the great abundance and valuable properties of renewable cellulose.

Unfortunately, scientists are still limited in their ability to synthesize specific cellulose derivatives due to a lack of control in existing methods to modify the cellulose molecule. “Current methods are crude,” said Edgar, who has spent nearly 25 years researching polysaccharide synthesis. “We’re looking for more precision and better control of the synthesis processes that can yield more specific products with superior performance.” These novel methods could greatly augment the commercial production of natural-based materials, as well as open up a wide array of applications for cellulose derivatives. “It’s a renewable, sustainable material, and could potentially move us away from dependence on fossil fuels,” he added.