Soy Makes the Grade in Mill's Adhesives Fix

Soy Makes the Grade in Mill's Adhesives Fix

Soybeans, long pressed into service in cooking oils, margarine, salad dressings, snack foods, nondairy coffee creamer, tofu, and animal feeds, have a new gig -- adhesives.

Mike Lipke, an Oregon lumber mill general manager, discovered the application after a six-month search for a better wood adhesive. Lipke wanted a glue to bond two pieces of wet wood that would do the job, spare the environment, and kick more profits into his bottom line.

When the industry-funded United Soybean Board, which looks for new uses for soybeans, approached him with an adhesive that allowed him to "finger-joint," or interlock, two blocks of wood. Lipke jumped at the chance.

It "gives us a competitive advantage because raw material is the single biggest cost for our company, 80 percent, so that is why the impact is so significant. It adds up fast," Lipke said in a Reuters report.

Once Hampton Lumber Mills was convinced the adhesive worked, it wasted little time committing to the new technology, spending $2.5 million to build a plant devoted to the wet wood adhesive.

It is already paying big dividends. Lipke said his mill now uses about 1% more of a tree's wood than it did with existing technology, translating into a saving of about $200 per tree.

Adhesive May Help Trim Surplus

The adhesive, a mixture of soybeans and petroleum, was first introduced in 1997 and approved for horizontal uses ranging from windows to doors and roof supports last December.

The soybean board expects the adhesive to consume 23 million bushels of soybeans annually by 2005, soaring to 150 million bushels a year once it is approved for use with other types of wood such as plywood, the group said.

That is good news for American farmers, who have watched soybean prices droop with ever-larger harvests in recent years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts a harvest of a record 2.94 billion bushels of soybeans this year.

In addition to the adhesive, scientists have begun to develop a broad range of industrial uses for soybeans including coatings, lubricants, plastics and hydraulic fluids, all of which could help trim the number of soybeans that sit idle each year.

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RELATED LINKS:

Government Gateway: Design for the Environment -- Adhesive Technologies Partnership

News Center: Plant Oils to Replace Fossil Fuels, Scientist Predicts

Web Guide: Significant New Alternatives Policy