FARGO — A soy-based product that was first thought up as a possible response to heavy oil traffic in western North Dakota could help control dust on roads starting next spring.

North Dakota State University recently announced its senior research engineer, James Bahr, and BioBlend Renewable Resources, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., have been testing what they call BioBlend Epic DS, a dust-control product that uses soy-based materials. Bahr and BioBlend hope the product will become an environmental alternative to more corrosive products commonly used by government entities and businesses, such as magnesium chloride and calcium chloride.

“It appears as if it works a lot better,” said Steve King, BioBlend vice president of sales and marketing, about his company's product.

NDSU has received funds from the United Soybean Board to find different ways soy products can be used to solve problems. The school has used soybean oil to make paint and plastics.

BioBlend Epic DS, a soy-based dust control product, was applied to this road. Photo from North Dakota State University / Special to The Forum
BioBlend Epic DS, a soy-based dust control product, was applied to this road. Photo from North Dakota State University / Special to The Forum

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Researchers started investigating the use of soy oil as a dust-control component about five years ago after a call to reduce dust from increased traffic caused by oil activity in western North Dakota, Bahr said. The school performed several tests this summer, he said.

“We’re just wrapping that up now,” he said, though he noted the product hasn’t been tested in western North Dakota.

The last grant NDSU received for testing and production of the dust control solution was $200,00, Bahr said.

Some Cass County roads were chosen to test NDSU’s product for three years, and it seemed to hold up, County Engineer Jason Benson said.

“It was a road that has a lot of traffic,” he said.

Benson’s department oversees 325 miles of gravel road mostly made up of a modified gravel that has more clay than scoria, making the color gray.

Complaints in Cass will depend on whether roads are more traveled, but Benson’s staff do 10 to 20 miles of dust control with calcium chloride every year, he said, noting places near road construction projects or routes to grain elevators.

Stark County Road Superintendent Al Heiser said dust is a common complaint in his western North Dakota county. His staff is responsible for maintaining roughly 1,200 miles of road, 900 of which is gravel, he said.

“I don’t know if we have enough time to talk about it,” Heiser said with a laugh when asked how many complaints his office gets about dust each year in Stark.

A light orange scoria is a common material used in western North Dakota. Stark mostly uses magnesium chloride, Heiser said.

The main selling point of BioBlend Epic is it lasts longer, doesn’t rust metals found in bridges or on cars, and doesn’t leave behind toxic chemicals or salt that can seep into groundwater, Bahr said.

“For those reasons, these chlorides are being phased out in parts of the country, and people are looking for alternatives to that,” Bahr said, noting the ingredients in his product are edible and nontoxic.

It's not the first soy-based dust control product. Without giving away too much on how BioBlend Epic is different than predecessors, King said NDSU has found a way to make the solution without emulsifiers, or additives used to help mix liquids.

Expense is a downside, Bahr and King acknowledged. Chloride-based dust control can be produced with little cost, while soy-based products tend to have a higher price tag.

Both Heiser and Benson noted the environmental benefits and financial burdens of soy-based dust control. It’s a matter of weighing the pros and cons, Benson said.

“I would try it,” Heiser said.

Bahr and King hope the longevity, stability and environmental pluses will convince potential buyers to invest around the country, and potentially the world.

“It’s hard to compete with that on a price basis, so we’re trying to establish a good balance of the material and the lifetime of the dust control,” Bahr said.