Study of wheat protein based materials

Date of Completion

January 2005


Engineering, Materials Science




Wheat gluten is a naturally occurring protein polymer. It is produced in abundance by the agricultural industry, is biodegradable and very inexpensive (less than $0.50/lb). It has unique viscoelastic properties, which makes it a promising alternative to synthetic plastics. The unplasticized wheat gluten is, however, brittle. Plasticizers such as glycerol are commonly used to give flexibility to the articles made of wheat gluten but with the penalty of greatly reduced stiffness. Former work showed that the brittleness of wheat gluten can also be improved by modifying it with a tri-thiol additive with no penalty of reduced stiffness. However, the cost of the customer designed tri-thiol additive was very high and it was unlikely to make a cost effective material from such an expensive additive. ^ Here we designed a new, inexpensive thiol additive called SHPVA. It was synthesized from polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) through a simple esterification reaction. The mechanical data of the molded wheat gluten/SHPVA material indicated that wheat gluten was toughened by SHPVA. As a control, the wheat gluten/PVA material showed no improvement compared with wheat gluten itself. Several techniques have been used to characterize this novel protein/polymer blend. Differential scanning calorimetric (DSC) study showed two phases in both wheat gluten/PVA and wheat gluten/SHPVA material. However, scanning electron microscope (SEM) pictures indicated that PVA was macroscopically separated from wheat gluten, while wheat gluten/SHPVA had a homogeneous look. The phase image from the atomic force microscope (AFM) gave interesting contrast based on the difference in the mechanical properties of these two phases. ^ The biodegradation behavior of these protein/polymer blends was examined in soil. SHPVA was not degraded in the time period of the experiment. Wheat gluten/SHPVA degraded slower than wheat gluten. We also developed some other interesting material systems based on wheat gluten, including the wheat gluten/basalt composite and wheat gluten/clay composite materials. Their mechanical properties and biodegradation behaviors were determined. ^