Researchers look at soy oil to replace petroleum for a range of products

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 1, 2004 – Virginia Tech researchers are mixing air and soybean oil to create new polymers to replace petroleum-based materials.

"These natural polymers could be used in biocompatible or biodegradable ways," says Tim Long of Blacksburg, chemistry professor in the College of Science at Virginia Tech. "We are looking for natural products derived in the United States."

Ann R. Fornof of Toledo, Ohio, a graduate student in Virginia Tech's Macromolecular and Science Engineering program, will present the research at the 227th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, Calif., March 28 through April 1, 2004.

"We bubble air and a catalyst through the oil to generate reactive compounds called polyols, which are suitable for polymerization," Long explains. "Polyols are used in polyurethanes, such as elastomers, foams, and biomedical applications."

Fornof’s and Long’s work represents collaboration between chemistry and chemical engineering. The research is supported by the U.S. Soybean Board.

Fornof earned her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Columbia University after graduating from Notre Dame Academy (high school) in Toledo.

Fornof will present the paper on "Synthesis and characterization of polyols via air oxidation of triglycerides (PMSE 444)," co-authored by Long, at 8:50 a.m. Thursday, April 1, in the Palm East room of the Anaheim Coast Hotel as part of the symposium on New Concepts in Polymeric Materials.


Interest in the area of renewable resources as replacements for petroleum-based chemicals has recently received significant attention. The well-defined chemical structure and inexpensive isolation make soybean oil one of the most attractive plant-based oils for functionalization. The controlled air oxidation of triglycerides has received sparse attention for the preparation of polyols. However, air oxidation is potentially the most facile and least expensive route for the introduction of polar functionality. Air oxidation of soybean oil can proceed in a relatively well-defined manner, and a combination of traditional and statistical design of experiments approaches will predict suitable reaction conditions for controlled air oxidation. These hydroxyl-containing triglycerides are also proposed to be suitable precursors for segmented block copolymer synthesis.

For more information, contact:

Ann Fornof at or (540) 231-9503;

Dr. Timothy E. Long at or (540) 231-2480.