You're looking at an example of how checkoff programs can make an overwhelming return on money invested in research and promotion. The ink used to print this report was made from soy oil.
Chances are, the newspaper you read every day also was printed with soy ink.
So, too, are many of the magazines, brochures and other printed pieces around your home. It's hard, in fact, for you to go through the day without picking up at least one thing printed with the beans you grow.
These inks now account for 25% of their potential American market, and in some printing industry segments — newspapers, for example — they are the dominant choice.
The first commercial soy inks were introduced barely 15 years ago. Today, soy ink production uses the oil from nearly 10 million bushels of soybeans. Based on 2000 production figures, that's about one out of every seven rows grown in Michigan or nearly all of the soybean production in South Carolina during that same year.
And growth potential remains strong.
“Asia is by far our biggest expansion market for soy ink,” says Jo Patterson, coordinator for the National Soy Ink Information Center, headquartered in Des Moines, IA. “The United Soybean Board introduced soy ink in Asia in 1995 during a series of seminars. The Japanese now use the equivalent of 1.5 million bushels of soybeans in the production of soy ink.”
Japanese printers either buy soy ink from U.S. manufacturers or buy Japanese-made ink that was made with American soy oil. Altogether, 28 Asian ink manufacturers produce soy inks, and 23 of those are in Japan.
Several high-profile Japanese companies use soy ink. Panasonic, the electronics giant, prints all of its boxes and product literature with soy ink and includes the red, white and blue soy ink logo on its packaging, says Patterson.
Europe, she adds, is the next big push for soy ink. “We are at about the same point in Europe that we were 10 years ago in the U.S.,” Patterson estimates. “We're making inroads, focusing on the newspaper industry first, just as we did here. Once we gain acceptance with newspapers, we should expect commercial printers to shift to soy ink.”
Soy ink has gained market share in the U.S. and Japan partly because of environmental concerns and policies, and that will be a factor in Europe, as well, says Patterson. Soy ink is softer to the environment than petroleum ink because it is more readily biodegradable, and easier to de-ink.
Plus, soy inks perform at least as well as conventional inks and in some applications are actually superior, Patterson points out.
Other applications for soybeans in the ink and publishing industries loom just over the horizon. Tests are under way, for example, with a prototype ballpoint pen that uses soy ink. Development work has been done at Southwest Texas State University, with funding by checkoff programs in Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Work also is progressing on a soy-based toner for copiers, laser printers and other equipment that prints with a xerographic (dry printing) system. The soy-based toner is made from soybean meal and oil, replacing toner now made from petroleum.
One advantage for the product is that it should be easier for recyclers to “de-ink” paper that has been printed with the bio-based toners.
“We talk about a paperless society, but that's not happening,” says Bhima Vijayendran, a polymer scientist with Battelle, the non-profit R&D organization that first developed xerographic technology in the 1940s and 1950s. “People find documents on the Internet, then print them out, so we continue to go through massive amounts of virgin cellulose fiber to make paper.”
Prices continue to increase for high-quality cellulose used to make office paper. Yet recycling this paper now requires intense heat and harsh chemicals to dislodge toner. Toner based on plant protein, however, could be removed with enzymes.
Battelle is working with the soybean industry to develop and test this kind of toner. Vijayendran and his associates already have tested a black soy-based toner in a standard laser copier. On a small scale, they have removed the toner with enzymes.
The next step is to draw toner manufacturers, equipment makers and paper recyclers into the development process. Vijayendran says meetings are planned early this year to move toward wider testing.
“Instead of spending more to improve technology, we want to form alliances that will move this idea toward the market,” he says. “This is the same approach taken with the development of soy ink in its initial phase. Instead of trying to do everything, we will let key companies decide the best path toward commercialization.”
In the American home — in construction materials, furniture and decor — a huge, potential market exists for products derived from soybeans. In construction materials alone, 158 million bushels could eventually be processed for glues and other joining compounds needed in the wood products industry.
That total — 158 million bushels — is a little more than the entire soybean production in South Dakota in 2000 or three times the number of bushels grown in Kansas that year. National and state checkoff programs have aggressively funded research in this market.
Soy-based adhesives are finding a place now in the wood products industry as glue for panels like plywood, particleboard and related materials. One major U.S. plywood plant, for example, now binds plywood layers with a soy-based foam adhesive. Soy adhesives also are being used for finger-jointing, a manufacturing process that binds short pieces of lumber together to form longer, more desirable lengths.
Glues and adhesives made from soy also could find markets in the production of load-bearing joists, load-bearing lumber, and pallets.
Soy-based paints and stains also are gaining attention. In 2001, Better Homes And Gardens used a soy-based product, NatureStain, to color the exterior of its test home. The stain, developed for fiber-cement siding, contains a soybean oil derivative. The result is a semi-transparent stain and sealer.
Furniture manufacturing provides yet another opportunity for soy-based materials. For example: Allsteel Furniture is using a soy-based polyurethane foam padding in the armchair, loveseat and sofa in its Arrive line of furniture. The process utilizes about one bushel of soybeans to produce the foam for each arm.