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In a noisy industrial lab at North Dakota State University, graduate students make dog bones with an injection molding machine — but there are no dogs in sight. The students are researchers, and they use the bone-shaped plastic pieces to test the strength of new bioplastics — plastics made out of plant material, like wheat germ, corn, soybeans and plant-based polymers.
This research effort — formally, the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites — is based at NDSU but happening in conjunction with three other universities: Iowa State, the University of Georgia and the University of Washington.
And while bioplastics have only a tiny share of the plastics market today, some major companies — the Ford Motor Company, The Coca-Cola Company and 3M — are joining the research effort. Scientists expect more plant-based plastics to find their way into everyday products.