UMass Dartmouth Biodegradable Plastics Lab Receives Grant

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UMass Dartmouth has received a $739,936 award from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to support the development of a new research and development laboratory in New Bedford to study biodegradable and ocean-safe plastics.

The new Plastics Biodegradation Laboratory at UMass Dartmouth will enable efficient testing of plastic biodegradation, helping address the significant waste caused by traditional plastics used in textiles, packaging, and other products that accumulate in the ocean and other water resources.

The state grant was awarded by the Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant program, an effort managed by the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), and will be paired with $1 million in match funding, more than $450,000 from private industry partners, including leading advanced materials companies such as PrimaLoft. The launch of the new lab will advance UMass Dartmouth’s research in advanced materials and the Blue Economy and make needed testing capabilities available for Industry.

“We are pleased to make investments across the state to support projects like this, which are addressing critical demands for new, innovative products,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “This investment in new research infrastructure at UMass Dartmouth will further strengthen Massachusetts’ Blue Tech sector, working collaboratively with the private sector to create innovative products and grow jobs here in the Commonwealth.”

The main biodegradability lab will be housed at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology (SMAST) campus in New Bedford, a newly expanded state-of-the-art facility with classrooms, labs, and offices for faculty, staff, and students. The Commonwealth’s capital investment will fund new lab equipment which will address material biodegradability and its environmental impact, specializing in the ocean impacts, and advancing the development of new, environmentally-sensitive products. In addition, investments on the main campus include auxiliary services in toxicology testing and microplastics assays. The lab will fill an important niche for businesses interested in the field, providing additional research capacity for the evaluation of plastic biodegradability.

In addition to PrimaLoft, partners on the project include Radical Plastics of Beverly, Paramount Planet Product, UMass Boston, UMass Lowell, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Boston-based SeaAhead, and the U.S. Army Soldier Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center.

Through the collaborations with Radical Plastics and Paramount Planet Product, the project expects to support the creation of approximately 75 direct jobs starting in 2023 and estimates an additional 232 jobs supported by supply chain and spending effects.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Plastic Product Manufacturing Industry in the United States produced $201.1 billion worth of plastics in 2019, with $3.9 billion from products in Massachusetts. However, biodegradable alternatives make up a fraction of that overall market, highlighting the strong growth opportunity for Massachusetts firms to deliver biodegradable products and address future demand.