Rolland Schnell, past ISA district director from Newton, and April Hemmes, ISA District 2 director and United Soybean Board member, attended the soy-centered celebration of this innovative new product. (Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Paving project celebrates new soy-based asphalt

November 14, 2019 | Bethany Baratta

Earlier this week, Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm celebrated soy as a major component of a paving project. The celebration was also the culmination of several years of research at Iowa State University (ISU) with a checkoff investment from the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).

The BioCentury Research Farm recently used the bio-polymer created using high oleic soybean oil to pave the farm’s parking lots. The project used the equivalent of 400 bushels of soybeans in the project.

“Investing in new uses like this soy-based asphalt gives my soybeans more value and increases demand, which is so critical at this time,” said Rolland Schnell, a soybean farmer from Newton and past ISA director.

The paving project is an extension of ISU research formulated high oleic soybean oil to replace other expensive, highly volatile compounds used as a binder in the creation of asphalt products.

Bio-polymer asphalt has been used in various projects throughout Iowa, and more are slated in other states yet this year and into 2020.

“We are always looking to expand our markets, whether it’s across the seas or right here in the United States,” said April Hemmes, ISA district 2 director from Hampton and representative to the United Soybean Board. “This is a perfect example of taking something we raise on the farm, putting it in industrial uses to replace a very high-priced product and making it renewable.”

Research and testing on the bio-polymer product continues as ISU pushes the product toward commercialization. About two-thirds of the potential market for the soy-based product is public, such as roads maintained by a state’s department of transportation.

Before breaking into that market, however, the product needed to be tested.

“We have to be able to demonstrate that using this bio-polymer is not a risk for those who use this product,” said Chris Wiliams, director of the Asphalt Materials and Pavements Program at ISA. “So, we took it to a test track.”

Nearly 30 state departments of transportation are participating in research projects featured at the test track in Alabama, Williams said. So far, testing has shown that the asphalt containing the soy-based polymer can withstand large volumes of traffic—similar to those seen on Interstate 35—in a short, accelerated timeframe.

“This demonstrates we can use our polymer technology in turnkey at terminal facilities and paving operations,” Williams said. “We’re not asking people to modify their processes or equipment to handle this material, and that’s important.”

Pairing Iowa and USB checkoff funding for the project not only helped jumpstart the research project at Iowa State, but it also propelled the product into testing, Hemmes noted.

 “This project hits on every category we spend checkoff dollars on—from research to promotion,” Hemmes said.

Schnell said the recent parking lot paving project at the Bio-Century Research Farm near Boone is an exciting step for soy.

“Our soybean product is unique,” he said. “We not only feed and fuel the world but now we can pave the world, too.”

Contact Bethany Baratta at