DECATUR, IL (AP)--A Decatur company has a deal with DuPont to study the possibility of making clothes from corn starch.

Tate & Lyle Citric Acid, a sister company to A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co., hopes to develop a corn starch-based fiber to be woven into a new synthetic material called Sorona.

"This will be a product produced from a renewable resource, which is always better than petroleum-based," said Mary Matiya, Tate & Lyle spokeswoman. "This is really an excellent fit with our strategy and core competency. It is very exciting."

The deal could mean more jobs and business for Tate & Lyle, but not in the first few years. Scientists for Tate & Lyle and DuPont will do their research at an existing corn fermentation research plant in Decatur.

The companies called the agreement "a significant step toward manufacturing advanced polymers from renewable sources."

Advanced polymers are used to make modern fabrics like DuPont's Lycra brand. Sorona is described by the DuPont as similar to polyester, but softer, more comfortable and more resilient. The Sorona polymer is used to make apparel such as athletic gear, hosiery and medical garments; upholstery; and industrial resins.

Sorona is now made using only petroleum resources at a plant in Germany. DuPont wants to start making the starch-based polymer by 2003.

The new product line could provide a new market for corn, although the companies believe the effect on the overall corn crop would be negligible.

"But this will continue to develop new uses for corn. It's moving in the right direction," Matiya said.

The new process starts with starch, which is fermented using bioengineered enzymes and spun into fibers that are woven into material. But the process must be perfected.

"We will be developing the process, understanding the process and working on getting the cost down," Matiya said.

Irv Lipp, DuPont spokesman, said this deal is a first step toward meeting DuPont's promise to start using organic, renewable resources for its products.

"We've made a commitment that 25% of our revenues will come from renewable resources by 2010," Lipp said.

Tate & Lyle was chosen as the supplier and co-developer because it has experience in the field of starch fermentation for specialty products, he said.

"It's their technology that they have to offer," Lipp said. "They have a lot of competencies in fermentation and separation. They're a starch company and that's what's important for us."

Although the product may take years to develop, the potential exists for large profits from a new fabric, said Alex Hittle, an analyst at A.G. Edwards in St. Louis who follows DuPont. He said Lycra sales are a significant portion of DuPont's income.

"I think the interesting thing here is that DuPont is building out more biologically based products," Hittle said. "The long-term outlook for chemistry is that it will become increasingly organically based."

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