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Agricultural Research Service

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Bio-based Research a Success Story for ARS

By Kim Kaplan
April 3, 2002

“Bio-based” may be one of today’s hottest new buzzwords, but the Agricultural Research Service isn’t a Johnny-come-lately, just now jumping on the bio-based product bandwagon. From the agency’s inception, it has been a leader in developing successful, new bio-based industrial products from agricultural crops.

Development of a cornstarch compound that absorbs 1,600 times its weight in liquid, 100 percent-soybean oil printing ink, and industrial lubricants from meadowfoam and other oilseeds are just a few of ARS’s accomplishments in the realm of bio-based products.

Sometimes the focus of ARS’s bio-based product research has been on replacing a petroleum resource with a biological one. For example, ARS invented a way to make a starch-based resin that can be used for biodegradable foamlike products, such as packing “peanuts.” Today, one company, Uni-Star Industries, Ltd., in Marion, Ark., makes starch-based resins that become more than two million cubic feet of biodegradable loose packing material each year, based directly on the ARS-developed technology. Putting just a little water on the packing material made from these starch-based resins melts it away completely.

The agency’s research also has been the foundation for whole new industries. Three companies--Tyson Foods, Inc., in Arkansas; Maxim, LLC, in California; and Featherfiber Corp., in Missouri--have begun developing a new industry based on an ARS-invented method for turning waste chicken feathers into strong, absorbent new industrial fibers. Maxim, for instance, is concentrating on marketing the fibers as a filter for municipal water.

More information about ARS bio-based industrial product successes, as well as new and ongoing bio-based product and bio-energy research, is featured in a special issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

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