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Innovative Cornstarch Makes Products Sustainable and 'Green'
by Jan Suszkiw
July 9, 2019

At the 2019 BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and AgTech in Des Moines, Iowa, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Gordon Selling today reported on his group's use of steam-jet cooking and other processing methods to create a starch-vegetable-oil-based complex with a variety of useful properties. For example, by combining cornstarch with vegetable oil, the team created a stabilizer to be used in salad dressings, sauces, ice cream and other foods or beverages, as well as industrial products like paints, glues and cleaners.

This stabilizer combines high-amylose starch with salts derived from vegetable oil fatty acids—rather than petroleum oil—producing emulsifiers, polymer films and coatings that could open the door to new products that leave behind a smaller environmental "footprint."

Such is the aim of Selling and ARS colleagues George Fanta and Veera Boddu, who work at the agency's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois. There, they specialize in researching new, value-added uses for commodities from corn, soybean, wheat and other midwestern crops. That focus also puts the team on the cutting edge of sustainable new processing methods that can position these commodities as renewable alternatives to using petroleum-derived materials, such as those used to make plastics, industrial cleaners and surface treatments.

The team also developed water-repelling coatings for paper and other cellulose-based materials, like cotton. In yet another application, the team created polymer blends that can be coated onto the tips of pruned branches and potato tubers to stymie fungal growth.

In addition to presenting today, Selling received a $50,000 grant award from the National Corn Growers Association's Consider Corn Challenge II. The grant will support the Peoria group's continued research on starch-based emulsifiers, positioning America's corn farmers to a grab a share of a global food emulsifiers market valued at $2.5 billion in 2018, according to one estimate.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.

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