Soybean oil on the railroad

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

'Certain' about soy

April 1, 2024 | Kriss Nelson

Boone refinery utilizes soy to create ingredients found in thousands of products

It could be oil used to make potato chips, glycerin in toothpaste, or an ingredient in your favorite protein bar. There is a possibility those ingredients are not only derived from soybean oil but were produced at a state-of-the-art processing facility right in central Iowa.

AgCertain, a food, agricultural and bio-based product development, manufacturing and marketing company, has been producing a variety of refined products, including kosher-certified U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) grade glycerin from vegetable-based feedstocks, including soybeans, and a wide variety of specialty food grade oils since 2019.

Because of the high demand of products like USP-grade glycerin, AgCertain has become the third-largest producer of the product in the United States.

Daniel Oh, AgCertain’s founder, president, and CEO, says the idea for the company evolved out of the concept of traceability and identity preservation.

“AgCertain operates as a highly certified, traceability-focused supplier,” says Oh. “People care more than ever about where their products come from, and AgCertain is committed to providing higher value, smaller volume, specialized refining and custom formulations with traceability, quality assurance and certainty.”

Meeting demand

At its plant near Boone, AgCertain has three refineries that purify vegetable oils and one refinery for glycerin. In addition to their refinery in Boone, AgCertain has a home office in Ames and recently acquired Newton-based Maytag Dairy Farms, the manufacturer and marketer of Maytag Blue Cheese.Agriculture facility

Nearly 95% of glycerin processed at AgCertain is derived from soybean oil.

The glycerin is purified into USP-grade glycerin after it arrives at AgCertain as a crude product — often as a biodiesel co-product.

“Roughly one pound of crude glycerin comes from one gallon of biodiesel. In many cases, that crude glycerin comes to Boone to be purified,” says Oh.

AgCertain was designed to process a large variety of oils, including soybean oil, walnut oil, watermelon seed oil and corn oil.

To ensure the products manufactured by AgCertain are certified kosher, the facility only accepts crude glycerin from vegetable-oil-based biodiesel facilities, like those connected to soybean crush plants. In contrast, glycerin from multi-feedstock biodiesel plants, including those that process animal fats, is not considered kosher.

Iowa is the country’s largest biodiesel producer, boasting over 400 million gallons of production capacity, with more than half produced from soy oil. This amounts to approximately 10% of the United States’ bio-based diesel consumption.

Iowa soybean processors use more than 267 million bushels of soybeans — equal to nearly half of the state’s crop — per year to make soy-based biodiesel.

“AgCertain is on the leading edge of positioning the Iowa soybean industry to capitalize on its world-leading nutritional and environmental attributes,” says Iowa Soybean Association Chief Officer of Demand and Advocacy Matt Herman.

Quality versus quantity

AgCertain focuses on specialty products processed at a lower volume but higher value that larger oil processors cannot accommodate.

“Our robust refinery system allows us to go in many value-added directions,” says Oh.Plant near Boone

This could be beneficial to Iowa soybean farmers.

“We are providing an additional way to produce their high-value products when selling to a highly traceable production system, for example,” says Oh. “We can process specialty products we believe will ultimately help producers make more money and sell products people will pay a premium for.”

In organic production, for example, producers can get their soybean meal to market, but if they cannot find a specialty market for their organic soybean oil, they lose value.

“Once you have decided to raise a crop using a highly certified, traceable route, you want a better price,” says Oh. “With AgCertain in Iowa, farmers are more likely to get credit for the entire bushel.”

Location, location, location

AgCertain wasn’t started in Boone by accident.

“We are intentionally located in central Iowa. It allows us good logistical access to our end markets,” says Oh. “We are located on the Union Pacific Railroad, close to Interstates 35 and 80, and Iowa State University. As part of the Cultivation Corridor, we have access to many talented people who want to be involved in agriculture.”


AgCertain is working to meet the needs of current and emerging products with a large-scale expansion in excess of 160 acres.

This expansion allows for additional storage, more logistics capability via an additional rail line, and increased efficiency through the co-location of an onsite tank farm. The expansion will also increase processing capabilities.

Glycerin uses

USP-grade glycerin can be found in thousands of products and uses. Often made from soybeans, USP-grade glycerin is used as a thickener, sweetener and emulsifier.

Personal care products such as face wash, lotions and cosmetics benefit from using USP-grade glycerin because it is hydrating.

In food, it works as an emulsifier, keeping ingredients together in products such as food bars and fruit snacks.

Other products glycerin is found in:

  • septic tank additives

  • printer ink cartridges

  • laundry detergent

  • shaving cream

  • cleaning wipes

  • air freshener

  • shampoo

  • dishwasher detergent

  • toilet cleaning gel

  • insect repellent

  • toothpaste

  • candles

  • makeup

  • hair color