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A New Corn-Based Polymer Precursor

Through farmers’ investment in the corn check-off, Minnesota Corn is supporting an effort by a University of Minnesota-based start-up to produce 110 pounds of a monomer called Nuvone from corn-based sugars. The start-up, Valerian Materials, will sell the material to a European company that will use it to make a polymer called methyl-1,5-pentanediol (MPD), which is used in adhesives, sealants, and other polyurethane products.

Valerian Materials makes Nuvone by using proprietary microorganisms to ferment corn-based sugars into an intermediate compound called mevalonate. In 2022, the company received funding from the organization BioMADE to optimize the Nuvone production process and study its potential use in polymers.

By providing additional support, Minnesota Corn is helping Valerian Materials fast-track and optimize its production process and ensure it has the capacity to fulfill the European company’s order as well as other large orders in 2024 and beyond. Valerian Materials says it will need to deliver multiple 1,000-pound-plus batches of Nuvone in fall 2024.

“We didn’t expect to do anything like this until we finished our project with BioMADE on Sept. 1,” Valerian Materials CEO Mike Arbeiter said.

Through its use of corn-based sugars, Nuvone represents a new market for corn growers. If it were to become the base material for MPD, which is currently produced from petroleum, it could generate an additional 1.6 million bushels in corn demand annually. Plus, it would also reduce production costs, since it’s less expensive to produce MPD from Nuvone than petroleum, Valerian Materials says.

If Nuvone becomes the base material for polyols—polymers used in many coatings, adhesives, sealants, and elastomers—it could generate over 300 million bushels in corn demand annually.

In addition to reducing emissions by replacing petroleum as a polymer feedstock, Nuvone could further increase the sustainability of consumer goods because it’s biodegradable. Additionally, Nuvone-based polymers could be recycled back into Nuvone and used to create new materials.

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