New-uses research projects have been growing like popcorn in a hot pan. But now it's more than research, more than talk. The first payoff has begun from the soybean checkoff new-uses initiative.
Since our third-annual New Uses Digest Special Report a year ago, several products have won their spurs in the commercialization process.
"There are new real products coming from the United Soybean Board's new-uses efforts," says Yvonne Wente, USB's New Uses Committee chairperson for 1997. "Our goal is to bring to the marketplace soybean-based products with performance, cost and environmental advantages.
"We are investing checkoff dollars in soybean-containing products that meet stated needs of manufacturers and end users," Wente declares. "Ultimately, the New Uses Committee aims to develop eight new commercialized uses by 2005 that increase the use of U.S. soybeans."
USB invested in 11 new research and development-commercialization projects for fiscal 1997 and approved seven more for fiscal 1998. With on-going, multiyear programs, USB is now supporting a total of 48 research and commercialization projects.
It's all part of a goal to hit a home run in the board's chase to reach its 300-million-bushel new-uses target by 2005. That's a lot of soybeans, and their use is not subject to the whims of world politics or embargoes, remind USB leaders.
Wood adhesives, still in the final development and commercialization stages last year but described as a "big gun" in the new-uses chase, notched their first commercial victory in October.
Production of finger-jointed lumber using soy adhesives hit the market when the Western Wood Products Association gave its green light to the "honeymoon" system of making finger-jointed studs. The association certified Willamina (OR) Lumber Co. as the first mill to use the soy adhesive.
Finger joints are zigzag-like joints that allow short lengths of wood to be glued together to form longer pieces. In the two-component soy honeymoon system, hydrolyzed soy protein is applied to one set of fingers and a traditional adhesive to the other.
When the fingers are pressed together, a chemical reaction occurs, without using heat, that starts adhesion in under five seconds. The resulting longer pieces of lumber are strong enough to be handled and transported in a matter of a few minutes.
Don't look for the finger-jointed lumber at a lumberyard near you just yet. Presently, it's being exported to Japan. The Japanese, known as some of the pickiest customers in the world, like the finger-jointed lumber because it resists warping better than traditional lumber.
The finger-jointed lumber using soy adhesive could prove to be just the tip of the iceberg in soy-based adhesives for the lumber industry, some scientists predict. If research efforts are successful - and nothing is ever certain in research - millions of bushels of soybeans could eventually be used to make plywood, chipboard, finger-jointed lumber, molding and many other wood products.
A second commercialization bull's-eye was hit during '97 with the CytoSol process. CytoSol is a proprietary formula, based on soy methyl esters, which dissolves crude oil or petroleum products from sand, rocks and plant life on shorelines.
In early November, the West Coast Regional Response Team issued an approval to use the CytoCulture bioremediation process to clean up a small oil spill in Humboldt Bay in northern California. Earlier in 1997, the CytoSol process, including a biosolvent made from soybean oil, was listed by EPA as an oil-spill cleanup material for shoreline uses.
A license for use of the product as a shoreline cleaning agent was issued in June by the State of California.
We told you about concrete form release oil in its research stage some time ago. Used to prevent concrete from sticking to forms in construction, it hit the market this past year, too.
Along with the form-release material, Midwest Biologicals will soon begin marketing a concrete curing agent made with methyl soyate. Sprayed on concrete slabs, streets and highways, it prevents the surface from drying out before the concrete hardens and cures.
Many more products will reach the commercialization stage and hit the market in the near future, predict USB farmer-leaders and scientists working on the research.
Several good possibilities are covered in separate articles in this New Uses Digest Special Report. Henry Ford, for example, may have just been several decades ahead of his time when his engineers made a car body out of soybean-based plastic. It proved too heavy and was never commercialized.
But now, a modified soybean oil resin developed at the University of Delaware is a primary ingredient in molded fiberglass reinforced parts being tested by a farm equipment manufacturer. Reinforced plastics are now widely used in the automotive, marine and construction industries to make tough, lightweight parts. (See story on page 12.)