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Winner - Environment

Patrick Gruber, PhD; Vice President & Chief 4 Officer, Cargill Dow LLC; Minnetonka, Minnesota


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Innovation - NatureWorks PLA

Making plastics from plants. Almost all plastics, so ubiquitous in the modern world, are made from petroleum pumped from the earth's core. This new material, NatureWorks PLA, is a corn-derived plastic. Through simple fermentation and distillation, corn is converted into polymers and resins for use in packaging and fiber application. NatureWorks PLA can be used for packaging films, thermoformed containers, and fibers for apparel and even carpet and office furniture. NatureWorks fits many applications in which plastics are currently used. It allows one of the world's most used materials to be made from a common annually renewable source. These new plastics are compostable and offer the potential of recycling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


Patrick Gruber began his scientific career in 1989 as president of Lactech, a technology development company. That same year, Dr. Gruber was named leader of Cargill's renewable bioplastics project and, in 1995, he became Director of Technology Development for Cargill's bioproducts area. He then went on to be named Vice President of Cargill Dow in 1997, a position he still holds today. During his tenure at Cargill Dow, he has also served in a wide range of positions in business and development areas for the company.

In 1993, Dr. Gruber was awarded R&D Magazine's Top 100 Inventions of the Year Award for advances in stabilizing enzymes. Cargill Dow has also been awarded the Popular Mechanics Design and Engineering Award, Industry Week's Technology of the Year Award, and the Department of Energy OIT Technology of the Year Award. Dr. Gruber received a bachelor's degree in Chemistry & Biology from the College of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1983. He then attended the University of Minnesota, where he earned a master's degree in Chemistry and a master's degree in Business Administration.

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