Starch is one of nature's major renewable resources and a mainstay of our food and industrial economy. Basic consumer necessities such as paper and textiles are major uses for corn starch in sizing, surface coating, and adhesive applications. Corn starches, and their derivatives dextrins (a roasted starch), are used in hundreds of adhesive applications. Special types of starches are used in the search for oil as part of the "drilling mud" which cools down superheated oil drilling bits. Other key uses of starch in American industry are as flocculating agents, anticaking agents, mold-release agents, dusting powder, and thickening agents.
Literally, thousands of supermarket staples are produced using both regular and specially modified starches. Many of today's instant and ready-to-eat foods are produced using starches which enable them to maintain the proper textural characteristics during freezing, thawing and heating. You will also find starch in a wide variety of household items such as batteries, matches, cleaners, and trash bags. Many personal and health care items including cosmetics, deodorant, hair styling products, asprin, cough drops, and medicines, include starch in their ingredients.
Clyclodextrins are enzyme-modified starches that have the ability to encapsulate ingredients such as vitamins, flavors, and medicines, which allows controlled release of active ingredients and protects ingredients that might otherwise be incompatible in product formulations. Cyclodextrins are used in products such as laundry sheets, which release their fragrance and softener in the dryer. They can also be used to remove cholesterol from milk and eggs.
Corn starch can be manipulated in a variety of ways to produce products that benefit the environment. Corn starch combined with polymers creates a super absorbent used in disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, bandages, and baby powders, and can be used to remove water from fuels and to clean up pesticide spills. Extrusion, the same process used to make snack foods, can alter the physical structure of corn starch to make totally biodegradable packaging peanuts. Starch granules can be broken down into nanoparticles to form adhesives that can replace petroleum-based acetates and alcohols used to help laminate graphics onto cardboard and latexes used as binders in paper coatings.
The most promising new market for corn starches is as raw material for the production of industrial chemicals and plastics which are today made from petroleum feedstocks. As petroleum supplies dwindle or become less reliable, the importance of an abundant source of basic industrial chemicals takes on new proportions. Corn industry scientists are at work on new systems for producing industrial necessities from the versatile corn plant.
Read our technical booklet to learn more about corn starches and how they are made.