Taking the Road Less Traveled

Thousands of miles of roads await soy-based asphalt ingredient


All roads lead to … new uses for U.S. soybeans? That’s the vision of Eric Cochran and his team at Iowa State University’s Bio-Polymer Processing Facility, which has introduced soy-based polymers into asphalt modifiers thanks to support from the soy checkoff.

Two of the key components of asphalt come from the oil-refining industry, and Cochran and his team of researchers wanted to find a more cost-efficient, environmentally friendly replacement polymer. By converting just a small amount of the asphalt formulation to a more renewable material, the product could greatly increase demand for U.S. soy.

“The dosage rate of this soy-based component is 3 percent of the asphalt binder,” Cochran explains. “To put it in perspective, there are 500 tons of asphalt binder, or 15 tons of soy derivatives, per lane mile. In Iowa alone, there are 80,000 lane miles of unpaved roads. So there’s lots of opportunity.”

But Cochran’s team and soy industry partners don’t intend to limit themselves.

Eric Cochran and his research group stationed around their monomer production reactor in 2015.

Eric Cochran and his research group stationed around their monomer production reactor in 2015.

“We hope to go global in the future,” says Cochran, who stresses that this is made possible by strong industry collaboration.

“I was pleasantly surprised at what a community of soy researchers there is out there,” he adds. “My favorite part of the checkoff research experience was attending the TAP (Technical Advisory Panel) meetings. It’s inspiring to meet others researching new uses for U.S. soy. There are lots of great things in the works.”

Cochran and his team are also exploring soy-adhesive applications.


United Soybean Board, press release, 2016-02-16.


Iowa State University


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