University of Southern Mississippi to ship first batch of Pentagon paint

February 19, 2002

HATTIESBURG -- American Pride, an environmentally friendly paint developed by University of Southern Mississippi polymer science researchers, will be used in the repairs of the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

The first shipment of the paint -- 100 gallons of off-white paint -- was unveiled to the public Tuesday at USM. In all, at least 20,000 gallons will be used to paint one-fifth of the interior walls in the Pentagon, as well as repaint the wing damaged in the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It will be 12-14 months before we start painting the rebuilt wing," said Bob Billak, who is in charge of maintenance at the Pentagon. "Before then, we will use the paint on the corridors and offices in the (rest) of the building."

Billak said the paint has been tested extensively and has shown to be more durable than conventional paint. More tests await the paint in Washington.

"They will take this paint and use it on a mock-up of Pentagon offices," said Dr. Shelby Thames, distinguished professor of polymer science at the Southern Miss School of Polymers and High Performance Materials. "By this summer, they will be ready to start ordering it in big volumes."

The paint, developed by a Southern Miss research team led by Thames, was unveiled during an Earth Day celebration last April.

"We had wanted to call the paint 'Pentagon Five-Star,' but when we checked with the trademark office, Pentagon was already taken," said Thames, explaining the origin of the American Pride name. "So we sat around and brainstormed. We wanted something associated with patriotism. We checked and American Pride was not taken.

"But it is now. It's ours."

In developing the paint, Southern Miss researchers, under Thames' direction, developed a monomer, a chemical building block, from an agricultural product -- in this case, castor oil -- which is built into the chemical base of the paint. The monomer, called a "castor oil acrylated monomer," takes the place of a solvent in the formulation of the paint. That, in turn, dramatically reduces the amount of toxic pollutants given off by water-based paint into the atmosphere.

Conventional paint, Thames said, contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which pollute the air and give fresh paint its unpleasant odor. The new technology developed at Southern Miss will remove the VOCs from the paint, cutting the level of pollutants from, typically, 200-400 grams per liter of paint to as low as three grams.

"The bottom line is this technology uses castor oil, soybean oil or lesquerella oil to allow us to make latex polymers that have wide applications," Thames said. "Not just paints, but inks, adhesives, carpet backings, coating for fibers, coatings for concrete steel, just a huge potential for applications. And we can make these coating systems that have no odor and release no pollutants into the atmosphere."

Despite its environmentally friendly makeup, the paint has shown a consistently high quality in lab tests, including government testing as a precursor to environmental certification and U.S. Defense Department approval, Thames said.

"According to the specifications called for by the Green Seal Society, our (paint) far exceeded their expectations -- in terms of the amount of volatiles in it, in terms of the odor, the washability, the scrub-resistance values. It meets the required Green Seal specifications according to an independent lab. Application for Green Seal certification is in progress."

In addition to meeting high standards, the paint will be a money-saver for the Pentagon and, by extension, U.S. taxpayers, Billak said.

"Since the paint has no VOCs, there is no downtime in painting," he said. "We repaint every five years, and by using this paint, we won't have to shut down offices and move personnel out while we paint."

The task of producing enough paint to cover the Pentagon walls has fallen to Southern Diversified Products, which has contracted with USM to market the monomer that is the chemical foundation of the paint. Southern Diversified Products was formed under an arrangement made possible by the Mississippi University Research Act, which allows university researchers to market the results of their work under an agreement with the university and the state College Board.

Southern Miss holds all of the patents on the monomer research and will receive royalties on those patents. Thames said there are currently six patents on the project, and predicts there could be as many as 20 by the time the research runs its course.

University of Southern Mississippi

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