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Corn+Soybean Digest

Iowa Corn Growers Fund 22 Projects

>From butanol fermentation and recovery to the development of disposable hospital gowns made from corn-based polylactic acid, Iowa corn growers are supporting a host of important research projects.

"We approve funding for projects that will improve the long-term profitability of growing corn," says Curt Jones, a Sioux Rapids farmer and chairman of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) research committee.

This year, ICPB approved funding of 22 research projects at a total cost of $891,419. While some of the projects are new, others are continuing from previous years, says Rodney Williamson, ICPB's director of policy and research.

Half of the projects are dedicated to the development of corn-based industrial chemicals that could replace petroleum-based products.

The committee decided a couple of years ago not to concentrate on new uses for corn in the food market.

"If we focus on the food market, we're predominately substituting one commodity for another. From an agricultural perspective, it may not be a net-sum gain," says Williamson.

Of all the industrial chemicals that could possibly be made from corn, the committee puts priority on four that it believes have the most potential for commercialization. They are:

* Butanol, which can be used to make paint, floor polishes, adhesives and varnishes.

* Polylactic acid, which has potential for use in biodegradable plastics. For example, a University of Tennessee researcher is working to develop fabrics made from polylactic acid. Hospital apparel is one possible use.

* Succinic acid, which can be used to make nylon, packaging materials and additives for oil.

* Polyols, used to make antifreeze, detergents, cosmetics and polyester clothing.

"These chemicals represent big markets, and they're markets we think we have a chance of competing in," says Williamson.

Adds Jones: "Our focus is to fund the development of products that will create at least 100 millions bushels of new demand for corn."

While most of the research projects are conducted at Iowa universities with direct funding from ICPB, three are funded through the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

Williamson says growers from the nation's largest corn-producing state support NCGA for two important reasons.

By funding research projects through NCGA, growers in several states can coordinate their efforts to achieve some of the same goals, he points out.

NCGA also has a licensing agreement with universities that enables the organization to commercialize new products.

"ICPB is prohibited by state law from accepting royalty income; however, NCGA can commercialize a product and receive royalties," says Williamson.

NCGA is currently negotiating a licensing agreement for a new corn-based succinic acid product. Money from Iowa corn growers was used to fund its development.

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