The possibilities for biodegradable corn-based plastics, clothing, bedding, packing materials and even sodium-free salt are heating up, thanks to recent research advances funded by state corn associations or carried out through government agencies. Through recent advances, several alternative uses for corn may become more viable increasing corn markets and profitability for growers across the country.

"This research provides corn growers more market stability for our versatile product," said National Corn Growers Association Research and Business Development Action Team Chair Larry Hasheider. "We're especially pleased to see the involvement in several state corn checkoff organizations in furthering this important work that moves us in the right direction of reducing our landfill space requirements. As more products are developed along these lines, we progress toward a more biodegradable society as a whole."

While the developments vary from new technologies that allow corn-based bioplastics to withstand heat more effectively to developing pharmaceutical uses for corn, the corn industry is developing new uses through research initiatives. With major breakthroughs on the horizon, possibilities such as replacing petroleum-based products with corn alternatives help build markets for the ever-growing U.S. corn crop.

Agricultural Research Service scientists are close to developing a way to use corn-based plastic bottles to hold catsup or juice. Currently, traditional plastics must be used as, due to the pasteurization process, these bottles are filled while the liquid is still hot. Prior to this research, corn-based bioplastics could not provide a viable option as they melt under such heat.

By developing a 90 percent corn-based fully biodegradable modifier, the scientists were able to make PLA, a bioplastic, more heat-tolerant. This development, the result of three years of intensive research collaboration, could significantly broaden the applications for which the plastic could be used.