Faculty Project Proposal Summary

Calendar Year 2014 Program



Faculty Name & Department/School: 

Skip Rochefort, School of CBEE

Mary Santelmann, Geosciences and Water Resources Graduate Program


Research Project Title: Biodegradeable “plastic mulch” for the Willamette Valley


Project Overview: 

NOTE: The preferred qualification for the student on this research project is that they are a current CBEE first-year student eligible to apply for a summer Johnson Internship with the desire to remain on the OSU campus in summer 2014 to continue research in the Polymer laboratory. Women in engineering  and minorities strongly encouraged to apply.

Plastic Mulch

This OSU interdisciplinary research project, funded by Part II of an EPA P3 (People, Planet, Prosperity) grant, started by centering around finding an alternative to the "plastic mulch" used to prevent weeds and protect soil in agriculture. Currently farmers use plastic because it costs very little and ultimately gives them a higher crop yield. Plastic mulch is tilled into the soil and may be burned, but does not biodegrade. Leaving the plastic in the soil creates unnecessary trash problems as well as issues surrounding toxins that may seep into the ground.

Mulch Made Biodegradable

We started this project wanting to create a replacement for the plastic mulch farmers currently use. The product we made consists of flax shive (a fiber waste product) embedded in a biopolymer biodegradable binder (sodium alginate). For the past year we have known that the product we can create using our budget and technology will not replace all forms of plastic mulch, but it can function at least on a smaller scale to reduce the plastic use in smaller farms and gardens, with a particular attraction to the organic farming industry.


We have created the samples of our biodegradable flax/sodium alginate film and it tested very favorably in growing vegetables in the summer 2013 growing season. We would now like to extend our results to different (local) waste products and to other less costly polymer binders. The market potential appears to be very favorable in the niche organic farming community, and we would like to provide them with a viable, low cost alternative to using plastic film.



What skills will students obtain in this project?

  1. Research skills in the field of polymer science and engineering and technical skills with state-of-the-art polymer characterization equipment.
  2. Mentoring of K-12 students through numerous outreach activities.
  3. Interactions with the OSU School Crop and Soil Science and with graduate and undergraduate students in CBEE.


Student research tasks: Looking at various biopolymers and agricultural waste products (maybe even grass?) to fabricate novel biodegradeable films to be used for replacements for “plastic mulch”.


Number of hours per week expected of student:

5 hrs per week (500 hrs per term) and possibility to work during breaks if desired.

Budget: ($500/term student salary) x 2 + $250 supplies = $1250


Text Box: Preferred Faculty Contact Information (email):  skip.rochefort@oregonstate.edu



Download student application HERE

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