• U.S.

Science: More Chemurgy

3 minute read

A group of earnest and powerful men, including Henry Ford and the late Francis Patrick Garvan of the Chemical Foundation, forgathered in Dearborn, Mich., five years ago, to add to the three rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a fourth right of man: the “right of self-maintenance.” This grandiose program started the National Farm Chemurgic Council, whose purpose is to find and exploit industrial uses for farm products.

Since then the “chemurgic movement” has gathered headway with soybeans for plastics and automobile enamels; casein (from milk) for fabrics and plastics; tung oil for paints; Southern slash pine and yellow pine for newsprint; furfural (for plastics, oil refining, wood resin processing) from oat hulls; anti-freeze fluids and fuel alcohol from cull potatoes; cotton for binding material in roads, pecan shells for charcoal. So far, however, chemurgy has not much helped the mass of U. S. farmers, as Congress’ election-year fondling of bedeviled agriculture well shows (see p. 74).

Last week in Chicago N.F.C.C. held its sixth annual conference. High lights: Cigaret paper is more widely used in the U. S. than in any other nation, but most U. S. cigaret paper has always been made in France from rags. At Pisgah Forest, N. C., Paperman Harry Straus set up a plant to make cigaret paper direct from domestic flax, separating the flax fibre from the flax straw by newly developed decorticating machines. Result: a market for 10,000 tons a year of U. S. flax.

Mazein is Corn Products Refining Co.’s trade name for zein, a protein substance which occurs in corn. Chemist William Bentley Newkirk of Corn Products has spent seven years making mazein into a successful plastic. He obtains it from gluten—a residue of starch manufacture which is ordinarily sold as hog & cattle feed at 2¢ per lb.—by extracting it with solvents, purifying and precipitating it.The resultant plastic, soluble in both paint solutions and water, is a sort of cross between casein and bakelite. Uses: buttons, laminated boards, high-speed printing ink ingredient, waterproof and oilproof varnish for paper. Mazein got into commercial production six months ago. Last fortnight for the first time it was spun into fibres, resembling wool fibres, which have not yet been fully tested.

Castor oil used to be of little use in paint and varnish making because it was sticky and slow to dry. In recent years chemists have found that they could “dehydrate” castor oil (remove some of the chemical components in the form of water), leaving a pale oil which dries to a firm film, keeps its pale color even after long exposure. Experiments under way in Texas show that castor plants can be successfully grown in the U. S.

Infra-red radiation tests show that dehydrated castor oil is a close chemical neighbor of tung oil, and, like tung oil, it yields a desirable, minutely wrinkled film when it dries. Some tung is produced in the U. S., but the vast bulk is still imported from the troubled Orient. Chemist John Carl Weaver of Sherwin-Williams Co. declared last week that dehydrated castor oil should help relieve the U. S. of dependence on foreign supplies not only of tung oil but of perilla and linseed oils as well.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com