AMES — Iowa State University is studying ways to use soybean oil instead of petroleum-based oil as a bonding agent in asphalt for making roads.

Rolland Schnell, a soybean farmer from Newton, says it’s a tremendous opportunity for Iowa growers, who already lead the nation in soybean production.

“If this is commercialized, and it is going to be, about 1.6-billion pounds of petroleum oil is used as a binder product now in asphalt, and that’s a lot of oil,” Schnell says. “There’s no reason to believe that, as this is accepted, a large portion of that could be soybean oil.”

Schnell says the studies are finding soybean oil beats the petroleum-based oil on multiple levels when it’s used to build roads. “Using the soybean oil, you have a superior product and a cheaper product,” Schnell says. “When I say a superior product, the asphalt that is made with this is much more flexible, it’s much more temperature-tolerant as far as it’s application, and it’s much more environmentally friendly.”

Schnell says using soybean oil in asphalt domestically and internationally would be a huge win, especially in this time of a trade war with China, as the need for more export markets is growing.