(DTN)--Dozens of research projects, at Iowa State University involve searching for new uses for Iowa crops.

Recent projects have used soybeans to make candles, highway markers and glue.

Toni Wang of the Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) Department and Larry Johnson, director of the Center for Crops Utilization Research (CCUR), are shedding light on how soybean oil can be made into wax to replace paraffin, in candles.

About 1 billion pounds of paraffin is used to make candles each year, in the United States. If soywax replaced a quarter of that paraffin, the new use would require 25 million bushels of soybeans annually.

Hydrogenating, or solidifying, soybean oil into wax-like material has advantages over petroleum-based paraffin.

"Soy candles burn cleaner and slower, so they last longer," says Wang. "Anything you use paraffin for can be made with soywax," she says. The researchers also are studying the use of soywax for wax paper and fruit and vegetable coatings. The Iowa Soybean Promotion Board and ISU's Center for Advanced Technology Development have funded the work, which has involved a partnership with Candleworks, a Cedar Rapids business.

A new use for soy protein would translate into better road safety. Raised, reflective road markers are common in many parts of Europe and temperate regions of the United States and Canada. But the reflectors can't be used in Iowa and much of central North America, because snowplows scrape them off the road. In addition, the markers can damage snowplows.

The solution could be a biodegradable plastic made from soy protein. Perminus Mungara, FSHN assistant scientist, has developed a new compression-molded plastic formulation. He works with researcher Jay-lin Jane, who has has spent years turning soy protein into disposable utensils, expandable foams, films and sheets.

The material developed for the road markers is tough enough to withstand the rigors of a season's use. When the first winter snow falls, the biodegradable plastic can be scraped from the road and left to eventually decompose in ditches, without harming the environment. The Iowa Department of Transportation tested the plastic markers last summer.

Other CCUR researchers continue to improve a soy-protein-based glue they developed. It has been used as an adhesive to make boards out of corn stover, straw, switchgrass fiber and other wood alternatives.

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