Soybean oil-based printing inks have come a long way since being introduced more than a decade ago by the newspaper industry. Soy ink's U.S. market share has quadrupled, from less than 5% in 1989 to 25% today.

With continued support from the soybean checkoff and the United Soybean Board, several soy ink research projects under way promise new printing applications targeted at a variety of end users. Once commercialized, these new applications promise to revolutionize the printing industry for another decade.

Ballpoint Pens

Researchers at Southwest Texas State University's Institute for Environmental and Industrial Science Coatings Center are studying ways to use the "green" products found in soybean oil for ballpoint pen ink formulations. Studies indicate that incorporation of soybean oil phosphate ester polyol into water- and solventborne inks could replace gel ink in inexpensive ballpoint pens.

Researchers indicate that the soy products are economical replacements for petroleum inks, and could lower production costs by 20-50% and maintain comparable quality. Collaborators have transfered the technology to an industry partner for commercial testing and application in mid-March.

Toner Cartridges

A soy-based toner for use in office copiers and laser printers is under development by Battelle, the world's largest independent science and technology institute headquartered in Columbus, OH. Researchers anticipate that the "tofu toner" will be easier to de-ink during the paper recycling process, resulting in better fiber recovery and a cleaner, brighter pulp. Less energy is required for de-inking, which could also result in lower paper prices.

Several soy-based toner compositions have been formulated and tested in a commercial copier with good copy quality results. Work is in progress to further improve copy quality, conduct extensive de-inking studies, make patent filings and perform field tests by potential industry partners prior to commercialization in 3-5 years.

UV Inks

Lehigh University researchers in Bethlehem, PA, are evaluating the use of soybean oil in UV-curable printing inks. Research indicates that treated soybean oil can replace at least 25% of the most commonly used acrylates in UV-curable lithographic printing inks.

Researchers have confirmed that with up to 20% soybean oil, the ink's printability and curability are maintained and even improved. Replacing a portion of the more expensive acrylate oligomer resins would also decrease the amount of VOCs released during curing. Users would realize enhanced pigment wetting, decreased odor, favorable paper-recycling properties and improved biodegradability of printed products. Radcure Division of USB Chemical Corp. is preparing the product for commercialization, which is expected to be made available to major suppliers soon.

Textile Printing

Soybean alkyds may become the next binder in the pigment printing technique employed in textile printing. Kansas State University researchers have discovered that soy alkyd resins are an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-produced acrylic binders. Soy alkyds produce bright, crisp prints on fabric with depth of shade values similar to acrylic binder. Researchers are working with BASF and hope to commercialize the product for applications in the apparel, home furnishings and industrial markets.

Fast-Drying Oil

Iowa State University scientists are refining conjugated soybean oil to determine its potential as a fast-drying oil. With a drying speed between the popular linseed and tung oils, conjugated soybean oil could replace the more expensive, imported drying oils and be used in printing inks and surface coatings. Conjugated oil has a low odor, and also appears to produce a harder ink film. Researchers are now looking at ways to optimize the process, and have involved a number of industrial partners, including Flint Ink, in defining the market for this promising product.

Baby Prints

Newborn baby feet may be stamped using soy ink kits someday soon, replacing the traditional petroleum-based ink kits. Dr. Sevim Erhan, leader of the oil chemical research unit at the USDA's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, IL, has developed an ink formulation for stamping baby footprints onto birth certificates. Petroleum-based mineral oil and resin are replaced with soybean oil-based products, except for the pigment where a food-grade black is being tested to replace carbon black, making cleanup much easier with just soap and water. Erhan is working with Hollister Inc., which market ink kits to hospitals.

The United Soybean Board is composed of 62 U.S. soybean farmers appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to invest soybean checkoff funds. The soybean checkoff is a farmer-supported marketing and research fund collected on each bushel of U.S. soybeans sold. USB invests these funds on behalf of the 600,000 U.S. soybean farmers in activities specifically designed to increase the global utilization of U.S. soybeans and to reduce production costs. Checkoff-funded investment areas include human and animal health and nutrition, research and development of new uses, and research to improve soybean composition and production efficiencies.