A Product with a History, Used for Modern Applications
First discovered in 1821 by J. Gorham, Zein is the water-insoluble polyamine from corn gluten meal. It has been the subject of numerous scientific papers and commercial endeavors. In 1897, T.B. Osborne discovered that Zein was soluble in aqueous solutions of the lower molecular weight alcohols. This discovery proved to be the foundation for the ability to extract Zein from corn gluten and the start of the commercialization of Zein.
First used commercially in 1939, Zein is a kosher, complex protein and is predominantly used as a coating or additive in the food processing and pharmaceutical industries. Zein has been used in a myriad of industrial applications, ranging from coating paper cups to lining the inside of soda bottle caps. Zein was also extensively used in the printing industry as a safe, edible coating for inks.
During the 1940’s, Zein was processed into yarn and used in the manufacture of stockings. This very high volume application ended with the discovery of nylon and rayon. The other significant application was by Eastman Kodak, who used Zein as a coating in the manufacture of photographic film and paper. Zein was ultimately replaced in this application by synthetic, petroleum-based coatings. One of the obstacles in the large volume commercialization of Zein was the problem of recovering or disposing of the alcohol laden waste effluent. The costly waste problem combined with the development of synthetic coatings helped to push previous producers (primarily corn milling companies) out of the Zein market. This market situation forced the large corn millers to exit the Zein business and all development efforts using Zein came to a halt.
Freeman Industries understood the unique coating properties of Zein and started to purchase it from one of the remaining smaller producers. They worked closely with end customers and slowly displaced other coatings with Zein. When the last of the corn millers exited the production of Zein, Freeman hired a Zein and extraction expert, purchased land and a building in Ashburnham, MA, acquired the needed equipment and set up Flo Chemical Corporation as a manufacturing operation.
Flo Chemical is the only manufacturer of Zein in North America and one of only two manufacturers worldwide. Besides being the high-quality, low-cost producer of Zein, they are an industry leader in Zein applications and proprietary processes.