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Bio-based Research a Success Story for ARSBy Kim Kaplan
April 3, 2002
Bio-based may be one of todays hottest new buzzwords, but the Agricultural Research Service isnt a Johnny-come-lately, just now jumping on the bio-based product bandwagon. From the agencys 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 ARSs accomplishments in the realm of bio-based products.
Sometimes the focus of ARSs 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 agencys 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 Agricultures chief scientific research agency.