By Liz Stevens, contributing writer, UV+EB Technology

Professor Jayaraman Sivaguru, Dr. Gregory Carroll, Sruthy Baburaj and Sheila Asiago were recognized in the 2021 RadLaunch Awards for their research project, “Colorful Nature – Biomass derived chromophores for radiation curing.” Dr. Sivaguru is the Antonia and Marshall Wilson Professor of Chemistry and Associate Director, Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. Dr. Gregory Carroll, National Research Council Senior Research Associate at Wright-Paterson Air Force Base, serves as a collaborator and industrial mentor for Sivaguru’s research team. Sivaguru was aided in his research by Sruthy Baburaj and Sheila Asiago, doctoral students at the Center for Photochemical Sciences and Department of Chemistry, Bowling Green State University.

As Sivaguru describes it, “The vibrant colors that enhance Nature’s elegance play a critical role in various chemical and biological processes. Translating these chromophores to polymerization curing technology is intriguing because some biomass derived compounds have photochemical properties that are superior to conventional compounds featuring similar chromophores.” The translation to polymerization curing, however, is quite challenging as it requires rational manipulation of excited-state properties. Sivaguru’s team has been successful in translating biomass derived compounds for radiation curing with both UV and visible light. The team’s efforts continue as they seek to translate these novel biomass derived compounds as curing systems on an industrial scale and with high efficiency.

The impetus for Sivaguru’s research stemmed from his desire to find a biomass resource that could be used to complement existing technology based on fossil fuels. He hypothesized: “It is possible to tailor compounds from plants – a renewable, sustainable resource – as photoinitiators for replacing fossil fuel-based compounds in radiation curing for polymer creation.” Sivaguru’s group is exploring oil extracts and other plant-based compounds for application to curing technology. For some applications, the use of oil extracts might be seen as akin to tapping rubber trees or maple trees for their valuable commodities – via extractions that are done in a way that leaves the living trees intact. 

Sivaguru is a photochemist focused on studying the interaction of light with molecules and materials, stressing that his current research project requires multiple disciplines: photochemistry, photophysics, synthesis, etc. He explained that the chromophores in plant-based compounds absorb light and can be fine-tuned to act as photoinitiators. “Depending upon the end use of a polymer product,” he said, “the superior performance of plant-based photoinitiators can be the key to superior results.” Since Sivaguru’s findings and technology are proprietary and patent-pending, he did not divulge the specifics of the chromophores’ superior nature or details of his technology.

At the time of receiving the RadLaunch Award, the project was in its early stages – a purely academic endeavor. The foundational technology was developed without major challenges and has been proven in the laboratory. Sivaguru expects that the next stage – ramping up translation to understand its working on an industrial prototype en route to commercialization – will be where the real challenges emerge. “While the petroleum industry is highly sophisticated and can produce bulk chemicals very inexpensively, the same is not (yet) true for biobased industry,” he said.

In addition to the satisfaction of pursuing a research idea and identifying an alternative to fossil fuels for developing new materials, Sivaguru enjoys mentoring his student researchers toward their research pursuits. “It is especially satisfying,” he said, “to help my Bowling Green researchers become entrepreneurs by finding viable practical applications of their research and developing commercial potential.” 

RadTech, the nonprofit for UV/EB technology, celebrated its 2021 RadLaunch Award winners during an Awards Zoom Program on April 28, 2021. RadTech’s RadLaunch Committee selects award winners among end users of the technology, based on new, promising and/or novel use of UV and/or EB. See more information on this year’s award winners: RadTech Announces 2021 RadLaunch Award Winners.