Larry Koskan's moment of inspiration arrived in the mid-1980s, when the organic chemist read a report by marine biologists at Clemson University and the University of South Alabama describing how oyster shells grow. Scientists knew that the mollusks secrete calcium carbonate as the essential constituent of their hardened exteriors. But what was new was the discovery that oysters also produce special protein-based agents that mold the mineral into their shells' characteristic shape. "When I realized that very low doses of the biopolymer they'd found--polyaspartate--inhibit the formation of calcium carbonate, the hair on the back of my neck rose up," Koskan recalls.
At the time, Koskan was employed by Nalco Chemical Company, where he was studying the properties of water-soluble polyacrylates (polyacrylics). Among other things, these widely used polymer additives help to stem the buildup of damaging mineral scale deposits (carbonate and sulfate compounds) on the surfaces of industrial water-treatment equipment. He realized that biodegradable polyaspartate could do the same job.
This article was originally published with the title It's Not Easy Being Green.