The Penn State Research Foundation (PSRF) and TerraSafe Materials Inc. have announced a new partnership focused on reducing and eventually replacing single-use plastics, such as those used in the food, construction, agriculture and transportation industries.

TerraSafe is launching its first rural research and development (R&D) facility in Innovation Park at Penn State, where the company will test material technologies developed by researchers at Penn State and leverage the intellectual property in the commercial biomaterials space.

The agreement is based on technologies invented by a research team led by Jeffrey Catchmark, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and of bioethics in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Catchmark and his team have worked for years developing technology that can replace conventionally used materials with those that are significantly more environmentally friendly.

According to Catchmark, the bulk of the licensed patents and technologies focus on new composites based on very low-cost, naturally-derived materials like polysaccharides such as cellulose and starch. These new composites are in the form of coatings, films and foams that exhibit improved stability and barrier properties that allow them to be used in applications like sustainable, compostable food packaging and handling products; adhesives for packaging, wood composites and construction materials; foams for insulated food packaging and construction insulation; and improved paper and paperboard for any application.

“Our research focuses on increasing sustainability and positive change for society through translational research that can have real environmental and economic impact through collaborations with industry,” Catchmark said.

TerraSafe is the first portfolio company launched by Big Idea Venture’s Generation Food Rural Partners I, LP Fund (GFRP Fund). The GFRP Fund, which participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business Development Program, evaluates intellectual property focused on innovations in the agriculture, food and protein sectors and invests in new companies formed around research with the greatest chance for broad commercialization and headquartered in rural communities, creating living-wage jobs to drive economic growth and development. The collaboration between TerraSafe and Penn State furthers the company’s core mission to build and grow companies throughout the rural United States.

“Penn State’s exceptional library of technology, especially in the areas of agriculture, food and materials, is impressive, along with their world-class professors, allowing our team to find potential commercial solutions for our corporate and limited partners’ business needs,” said Frank Klemens, managing director of the fund. “The support that this ecosystem can bring to startups like TerraSafe is why we located our first R&D center in State College. We look forward to a long, fruitful relationship with Penn State’s team of professional innovators for many more years to come.”

Scott Bolin, chief executive officer of TerraSafe, spoke to what the partnership could accomplish.

“I’ve been very impressed with the innovative and entrepreneurial culture at Penn State, and we are excited to have licensed some ground-breaking technology, which will reduce our daily exposure to microplastics, making the world a safer and healthier place," Bolin said. "We’re committed to being a part of the Penn State ecosystem and are looking forward to our lab opening at Innovation Park in the coming weeks.”