UND Receives Patent for Revolutionary Renewable Chemical Invention

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Arts & Sciences


A UND invention approved this week by the U.S. government will green up the production of several vital industrial chemicals. This invention could significantly reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels used in the chemical industry.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) this week published Patent No. 8,076,504 for a UND invention titled "Method to Produce Short Chain Carboxylic Acids and Esters from Biomass". The co-inventors are Alena Kubatova, associate professor of chemistry, Wayne Seames, professor of chemical engineering, and Brian Tande, assistant professor of chemical engineering. This technology was developed under the Sustainable Energy Research Initiative and Supporting Education (SUNRISE) supercluster program.

The invention—an innovative chemical process—will revolutionize the production of several key industrial chemicals that are currently used in making polymers and for applications in the food industry, in agriculture, and in coatings and lubricants, among many other uses. A polymer is a long, repeating chain of atoms, formed through the linkage of many molecules called monomers. The monomers can be identical or they can have one or more substituted chemical groups. These differences between monomers can affect properties such as solubility, flexibility, or strength. All plastics are polymers, but not all polymers are plastics. Polymers are widely used in a broad range of industries, including food processing, automotive, agriculture, lubricants, textiles (from fancy evening gowns to bullet-proof vests), and, of course, plastics. Most polymers are synthetically produced, but some, such as natural rubber, are produced in nature.

In the UND process, feedstock oil from oilseed crops (such as soybeans and sunflowers), algae, microbes, waste cooking oils, and other sources are placed in a cracking reactor where the long-chain oil molecules are broken up into smaller fragments, including short chain fatty acids. These acids are extracted from the reactor outlet liquid using water or a base and purified into commercial grade products. In the version SUNRISE is developing for commercialization, an amine is used for acid extraction. From the cracking reaction other valuable green fuel and chemical products are produced.

"This patent is the first to issue from of a series of pending patent applications UND has filed with the USPTO to protect an intellectual property portfolio based on SUNRISE's renewable oil cracking technology," said Michael Moore, associate vice-president and UND's principal commercialization officer.

"The University is actively seeking to license this suite of technologies which produces fuels, chemicals, and polymers from renewable feedstock sources for rapid and widespread commercialization," Moore said.

"This patent is an example where collaboration between a scientific specialist, in this case, an analytical chemist, with engineers can lead to technologies that are directly and immediately useful to society," said Kubatova. "Often in chemistry, the impact of our research is less direct. It's very satisfying to be a part of this development."

About ND SUNRISE (Sustainable Energy Research Initiative and Supporting Education)

ND SUNRISE is a student-centered, faculty-organized supercluster consisting of 31 faculty in 13 academic departments at the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, and Mayville State University. ND SUNRISE research focuses on three areas: the technologies to enable the environmentally sustainable use of coal, the production of fuels, chemicals, polymers, and composites from renewable sources, and the harvesting of energy from diffuse sources (wind/solar/hydrogen).