Innovative Uses: Soybeans Part of Growing Bioeconomy

There’s a reason soybeans are called the “Miracle Bean.” In addition to being used as high-quality livestock feed and exported across the globe to feed people and animals, soybean-derived ingredients are also in thousands of food and household products.

Through efforts by the United Soybean Board (USB) and others, soybeans are an important part of the nation’s bio-based economy.

“Our family grows soybeans that reduce our nation’s environmental footprint, create jobs and cut America’s dependence on petroleum,” says Lewis Bainbridge, a farmer from Ethan, South Dakota, and USB director. “U.S. soybeans make protein and oil for livestock feed and human food throughout the world. An abundant supply is left for hundreds of bio-based products.”

From roads to store aisles, bio-based items are in nearly every product sector.

The artifi cial turf covering SDSU’s Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium is made with a soy-based backing. Photo courtesy of SDSU.

The artificial turf covering SDSU’s Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium is made with a soy-based backing. Photo courtesy of SDSU.

One exciting development comes in the area of soy-based asphalt restorers and rejuvenators. The products, including RePLAY™ and Biorestor™, are sprayed onto new asphalt roadways to extend their life, or applied to existing roads to seal cracks and reduce the immediate need for repairs. A study conducted in Hutchinson, Minnesota, showed that, when applied to new pavement, the soy-based sealant could delay the first chip by six to eight years. A second coat can be applied to delay road repairs by 12 to 16 years, saving an estimated 30 percent of a typical city’s road repair budget.

Soybean checkoff funds have aided in the research and development of these products, which have been applied to South Dakota roads near Ipswich and Gettysburg. Further research and outreach is being done to educate state and county highway departments and city public works departments about the sealants’ benefits.

Soy ink has been a printing industry staple for nearly 20 years. Currently, over 90 percent of America’s 1,500 daily newspapers use soy ink in their presses. Soy ink use for news print peaked at about 150 million pounds. The sharp decline in print newspaper readership has reduced the use of soy ink in newsprint. Other types of soy ink for lithography, flexography and even some use in digital printing have helped soy ink volumes to recover. Soy-based toner has been developed for use in home and business printers and copiers. Research is also being done on the possibility of using soy ink in pens and other writing applications.

USB Director of Bio-Based Products Mike Erker says there continues to be strong demand for industrial uses, including:

  • All Ford vehicles built in North America have soy in the seats and headrests.
  • SYNLawn® and AstroTurf™ include soy in the backing of their turf for athletic fields as well as synthetic lawns.
  • Soy polyols are used by multiple companies for furniture, bedding, seating and couch cushions.
  • Cargill developed a soy-based dielectric fluid used in electrical transformers.
  • Soy adhesives are widely used in the manufacture of plywood from Columbia Forest Products.
  • Sherwin-Williams and Rust-Oleum utilize soy in their paints and stains.

“It’s like a stock broker will tell you, you have to have a diversified portfolio,” Erker says. “Exports are fantastic, as is the livestock industry, because they add value to our soybeans. However, these bio-based products also add value now, and, as they grow, they’ll add even more.”

A study from Duke and North Carolina State University showed America’s bioeconomy contributed $369 billion to the U.S. economy in a single year and displaced 300 million gallons of petroleum.

The nation’s soybean industry is an integral part of the federal BioPreferred Program, through which the USDA designates categories of bio-based products for federal procurement preference. Currently, USDA has 97 BioPreferred-designated product categories required for preferred federal purchasing.

According to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the federal government’s footprint includes 360,000 buildings, 650,000 fleet vehicles and $445 billion in spending annually on goods and services.

Because of the potential for bio-based products to create new markets for soybeans, U.S. soybean farmers have invested millions of dollars to research, test and promote bio-based products. Innovative soybean uses are strong complements to existing livestock and export markets.

To read more in the September/October issue of the South Dakota Soybean Leader, click here.