SOY POLYMER MAKERS: ISU engineer Christopher Williams (left) holds a jar of the material made as an intermediate step in producing the gooey soy oil polymer, which fellow ISU researcher Eric Cochran is holding. The two led a team that developed an elastic, high-performing polymer from soy oil that helps bind asphalt paving.
SOY IS IN IT: The parking lot at ISU’s BioCentury Research Farm was paved to demonstrate new technology in asphalt paving using biopolymers from high-oleic soy oil. It took 400 bushels of soybeans to make the new polymer used in this parking lot; about a ton of soybean oil is used per lane mile of asphalt.
POLYMER PROMOTERS: Soybean growers Gregg Fujan (left), United Soybean Board member, and Rolland Schnell, Iowa Soybean Association member, are promoting the use of soy polymer in asphalt. A $250,000 investment from ISA and USB was leveraged to $13 million from private, state and federal funds to scale up the polymer production processes and turn them into commercial products.
PARKING LOT MAKEOVER: On Nov. 9, a gravel parking lot at Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm west of Ames was paved to demonstrate how asphalt with soy oil biopolymers could be replacing petroleum-based polymers in asphalt paving across the country.
$5.3M PILOT PLANT: After seeing a nationwide shortage in SBS, the primary polymer for asphalt, Seneca Petroleum began working with ISU researchers to develop a biopolymer alternative. Agro Genesis Chemical LLC, a sister company to Seneca, built the Bio-Polymer Processing Facility in 2015 and turned it over to ISU to ramp up biopolymer production.
HIGH ON HIGH OLEIC: Process engineer Mike McMahon and ISU professor Christopher Williams prefer soy oil from high-oleic soybeans. Its fat composition makes it more elastic, which translates to less pavement cracking, especially in cold climates.
DEMOS ON DECK: The ISU paving demonstration is right next to the pilot polymer plant, but ISU researchers Eric Cochran and Christopher Williams plan to be on-site as much as possible at demos in six more states by the end of next summer. Demos have already been conducted in Brainerd, Minn., and Grimes, Iowa. On deck are demos in Alabama and Texas this winter and then next spring in South Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana and Missouri.
1 TON PER MILE: Cochran says it takes about a ton of soybean oil per land mile of asphalt. The ISU plant produced 15 tons of polymer this summer, but could produce 10 times as much, 10 tons a week, if the plant were staffed around the clock.
ENORMOUS POTENTAIL: About 300 million tons of asphalt are applied each year, so the market potential for soy polymer is enormous. Cochran says asphalt paving is only the first use of the polymer; the research team is looking at other applications.