Soybean Business: Fostering Innovation

This story first appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of Soybean Business, the magazine of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. This article comes from the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, which has invested soybean checkoff money into the development and research of cover crops in Minnesota. Click here to read more articles from Soybean Business.

Minnesota has long been a leader in agricultural production and innovation. That historic leadership may well hold the key to its economic future.

The soybean checkoff supports research, market development, environmental stewardship, education, communications and new uses. For more than 25 years, the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council has partnered in efforts to develop innovative new uses for soybeans and soy processing coproducts through the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.

AURI is a nonprofit corporation, created by the state legislature to develop innovative and value-added uses for Minnesota agricultural products through applied research and product development. This includes such diverse uses as renewable energy, food products, coproduct utilization and bio-based products. With labs in Crookston, Marshall and Waseca, AURI provides Minnesota businesses and entrepreneurs with access to unique resources.

“The biggest thing AURI offers is the expertise of their scientists and project managers,” says Ron Obermoller, a farmer from Brewster, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association director and current chair of the AURI board of directors. “AURI supports rural growth by creating jobs and economic development.”

From 2004 to 2012, AURI reports projects they have supported resulted in new capital investments of over $62 million, more than 50 new ag-based products developed and 40 technologies developed or enhanced.

Over the past two decades, the MSR&PC has invested funds in specific projects to create innovative uses for soybeans and soybean coproducts in an effort to capture as much value as possible. Those projects include the development of biodiesel, which was being researched by organizations like AURI, the University of Minnesota and the U.S. Bureau of Mines back in the late 1980s. Other successful efforts include the development of soy-based plastics for home and industrial uses.

Several recent projects are showing strong potential for getting soybean products into new and high-value applications.

Bio-Based Fire Retardant

EarthClean Corporation of South St. Paul has developed a bio-based water enhancer called TetraKO that can be pumped thrugh standard fire equipment to help suppress fires. Once

applied and exposed to heat, TetraKO converts to steam, reducing risk to firefighter exposure to heat, flames and toxic fumes. Tests have shown the product, which contains agricultural components, is more effective than plain water, plus it is biodegradable and non-toxic to water, fish, plants and animals.

Tests are underway to determine if the bio-based retardant could be certified for use by the U.S. Forest Service in wildfire applications. Additional work is being done to determine applications for the product in animal feed.

The MSR&PC has invested $50,000 in soybean checkoff in this overall $479,000 project.

Glycerin Anti-Freeze

Minnesota’s biodiesel plants produce over 60 million gallons of biodiesel each year. They also produce glycerin, which is a thick liquid coproduct of biodiesel manufacturing that has limited value in its crude form. Developing new, value-added uses for glycerin would improve profitability of the state’s biodiesel plants and offer another revenue stream for soybeans.

The MSR&PC and AURI are working with a nationally recognized company here in Minnesota to develop and evaluate new product opportunities from glycerin, including using it as a “green” anti-freeze in applications not thought of before.

This project is still in the exploration phase so no soybean checkoff dollars have been invested at this point.

Biobased Bale Net Wrap

This project proposes to address a problem identified by the livestock industry involving plastic net wrap used in forage bales. When feeding or grinding bales wrapped with net wrap, it is often not efficient for operators to remove the wrap prior to feeding. This poses a problem, particularly in ruminant animals not able to digest the plastic materials used in the wrap. The purpose of this project is to research and develop a plastic material composition using soy-polyolefin profiles with at least 20-25 percent renewable, bio-based content. This material will be used in the production of bale net wrap with the goal of increased biodegradability.

Industry experts are currently being consulted to gain additional insight into potential biobased polymer solutions. Information is also being gathered on manufacturing specs from net wrap suppliers to better understand the manufacturing processes for bale net wrap. Beginning in March 2015, another literature review will be conducted focused on intellectual property of unstable polymers that have potential solutions for partial rumen degradation. The purpose of these initial research activities is to gain a better understanding of the bale net manufacturing processes and potential biobased polymer solutions before beginning the research on developing and testing polymer blends.

The MSR&PC has invested $33,500 of soybean checkoff dollars in this overall $70,000 project.

Minnesota Ag Bioscience Strategy

An in-depth report, compiled by the world-renowned Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, includes an assessment of Minnesota’s key capacities and opportunities in agricultural research and offers a suggested strategy for the state.

“This initiative is about creating a vision and strategy to transform Minnesota’s fundamental strength in agriculture into leading-edge innovation and economic growth for the state,” says AURI Executive Director Teresa Spaeth.

Battelle interviewed more than 100 individuals across Minnesota including university faculty, researchers and research administrators as well as professionals in applied research, technology transfer and economic development. From that research came four key ag-based bioscience research platforms for Minnesota. They include, Microbial AgBioscience, Efficient and Product Agricultural Systems, Bio-based Industrial Products and Value-Added Food and Health Products.

The MSR&PC has invested $45,000 of soybean checkoff dollars in this overall $200,000 project.