Researchers Eye New System to Develop Anticorrosion Chemicals

Iowa State graduate students Sanaz Abdolmohammadi, left, and Jiajie Huo are part of the research team. Photo by Christopher Gannon, Iowa State.

Researchers at the U.S. National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) at Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa, USA) are creating a novel system to identify biological-derived molecules for the development of anticorrosion or flame-retardant chemicals.

Until now, the strategy for developing bio-based chemicals has been opportunistic, says Brent Shanks, the director of CBiRC and an Iowa State engineering professor. He says much of the focus has been on finding molecules leading to one specific end product.

“Here, we’re trying to find out how we can do something more systematically than developing one product at a time,” says Shanks, whose multi-university research team is using funding from a three-year, $2.5-million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technology Office. “This opens up a lot of different avenues.”

However, it also creates a separate challenge. “The problem is there are millions of biological molecules,” Shanks says. “How do we identify the ones with the chemical structures that can lead to the end properties we want?”

In response, the researchers have come up with a three-step system to find those molecules.

First, researchers at the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington, USA) are mining decades of scientific literature for references to anticorrosion and flame-retardant chemicals. The data-science effort will try to identify chemical structures that contribute to those properties and could lead to commercial applications.

Second, a team at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois, USA) is working to mathematically model the chemical structures that resist flames or corrosion. The models are expected to lead researchers to biological molecules with similar structures and properties. The models will also be the basis for a library of compounds with similar chemical structures.

Finally, Iowa State researchers will work in the lab to synthesize the molecules, develop potential products, and test their anticorrosion and flame-retardant properties.

The goal is to identify at least five novel bio-based chemicals that boost performance by at least 10% over commercially available products. “I think we can get there right away,” Shanks says, noting that prior CBiRC studies have shown that certain “bio-privileged molecules” have unique properties and can be efficiently converted to chemical products.

Source: Iowa State University,