New uses for soybeans are said to have an unlimited potential — meaning there is an exciting future ahead for the little beige bean.

Here's a sneak peek at some of the products expected to take off in the market in the next five to 10 years.

BIG ON BIODIESEL

Many soybean industry experts are optimistic for the future of soy biodiesel. “The commercialization and potential usage of biodiesel has barely been tapped. We hope, in the next decade, this is an area that further develops and is able to move millions of bushels of soybeans,” says Sharon Covert, chair of the Illinois Soybean Checkoff Board.

Soy biodiesel is a new-use area her state soybean association will continue to concentrate on developing, she reports. “We look forward to federal tax incentives to help this market expand in the future,” Covert adds.

Iowa is also focused on increasing the use of soy biodiesel in both traditional and cutting-edge uses, says Karen Andersen, marketing director for the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board. “Most of the biodiesel research to date has focused on putting it in commercial vehicles, which is one of the largest potential uses for millions of bushels of soybeans, she says. “But there is future technology, such as using biodiesel in fuel cells, that is showing promising potential as well.”

For example, fuel cells powered by biodiesel could be used as a replacement energy source in batteries and even for generating electricity, Andersen says. “Biodiesel works well in fuel cell applications because it does not contain sulfur, which is detrimental to the inner workings of a fuel cell.”

MORE EARTH-FRIENDLY ITEMS

Soy-based products that offer earth-friendly attributes to industries are also expected to continue gaining appeal. “We have many industrial new-use products in the pipeline with our industry research and development partner, Battelle,” reports Susie Turner, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC). “It has a commitment to the green industry and developing products from renewable resources.”

For instance, through soybean checkoff funding, a readily de-inkable soy resin-based toner was developed through a joint effort by the two organizations. It was recently awarded one of Research and Development (R&D) magazine's prestigious Annual 100 Innovation Awards. When used in printers and copy and fax machines, the environmentally friendly soy-based toner de-inks more readily in the paper recycling process than petroleum-based toners. Turner reports that this will result in cleaner, brighter pulp and eventually less expensive recycled paper.

Last year, OSC and Battelle were awarded the R&D award for work on soybean oil-based environmentally friendly plasticizers that can be used in blood bags, tubing and other medical devices.

NEW FOOD IDEAS

On the food front, we'll likely see more frozen entrees with soy, as well as new meat alternatives that look more like muscle meat products, such as chicken breasts and steaks. That's according to Peter Golbitz, with Soyatech Inc., a market research firm that tracks soyfood product sales. Golbitz also anticipates more soymilk drinks and meal replacements and a huge increase in soymilk-based yogurts.