An Iowa State University professor hopes to be able to use soybeans for feeding hogs in a new way: as part of the feeder itself.
ISU professor of chemistry Richard Larock has invented and patented a process for producing various bioplastics from inexpensive natural oils, which make up 40% to 80% of the plastics. Larock says the plastics have excellent thermal and mechanical properties and are very good at dampening noises and vibrations. They're also very good at returning to their original shapes when they're heated.
Larock is working with AgVantage Inc., a Rockford, Ill., company with manufacturing facilities in Iowa, and R3 Composites, a Muscatine manufacturer. Ron Hagemann, a principal with AgVantage, states designs for a bioplastic hog feeder have been drawn up. The designs include radio frequency identification technology that can monitor and record the feeding habits of individual hogs. Molds for the high-tech feeders should be completed later this year and prototypes should be ready for testing in a hog building next spring. If all goes well, he said a product should be ready for commercialization by the end of next year.
Hagemann adds the feeders' biggest advantage in the marketplace will be material costs. Corn and soybean oils are significantly cheaper than petrochemicals. And that's particularly true when oil prices are high.
Hagemann says he expects this project to be a very good test of Larock's plastics.
Hogs, after all, aren't known for being gentle with their feeders.
Larock isn't stopping with the feeder project. He's looking at adding other low-cost agricultural ingredients to his bioplastics. He's now studying whether distillers dried grains, a co-product of ethanol production that's sold as animal feed, can add strength to his bioplastics.