While a primary intent of soy new uses is to boost the ag economy, there's an important secondary benefit as well — a better environment. Soy's earth-friendly attributes make it a great green alternative for everything from cleaning solvents and building products to insect larvicides.

One example where soy is benefiting society can be found in Kentucky, where a Habitat for Humanity home was insulated with BioBased 501, a soy-based, spray-in foam insulation.

The installation of the foam was compliments of the Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board (KSPB). BioBased 501 goes on as a liquid, expands 100 times its volume and forms a soft, but solid, barrier that fills every crack and crevice in walls and around pipes and wiring to create highly efficient thermal qualities.

“We are very appreciative of Habitat for Humanity and Quantum Foam for the teamwork shown on this activity,” says George Martin, a farmer from Nebo, KY, who serves on the KSPB and on the United Soybean Board. “Not only have we been able to serve Kentucky soybean farmers in this effort, but also fellow Kentuckians.”

HURRICANE HELP

Soy oil may also play an important role in producing hurricane resistant building materials for the future. Richard Wool in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware has developed a new soy-based resin roofing system that shows potential for withstanding hurricane force winds.

Wool studied the aftermath of previous hurricanes and found that most of the damage to roofing was not catastrophic, but a gradual process of removing particle boards from the roof by the wind-induced pressure drop. This effect causes the structure of the home to be compromised, followed by costly water damage.

Wool's solution was to make the whole roof one unit (below). He created a composite structure made with a cellulose fiber mat from waste paper, cardboard and chicken feathers and then infused it with soy resin. The surface layer of the roof is made with a nanoclay-reinforced soy gel coat.

The 10-in. thick insulating foam can also be made with 100% soybean oil using a CO2 blowing agent. “These materials were selected to improve processing, strength, reduce cost and have maximum environmental impact,” says Wool, who is assembling a team of architects, roofers, composite fabricators, civil engineers, lawyers and natural fiber and soy resin suppliers to begin construction of this low cost, highly engineered and energy efficient structure. He says the soy-based resin roof will last at least 25 years.

The design is so strong that the same roofing composite is being used to make a scaled-down version for tsunami shelters. Emergency shelters of all kinds are possible with this technology, Wool says.

Wool reports the first soy-based resin manufacturing facility will be in operation by March 2006 in cooperation with Wool's company Cara Plastics and DynaChem of Georgetown, IL. Details of the soy resin chemistry and hurricane resistant roof design can be found in Wool's book, co-authored with Kansas State professor Susan Sun. It's titled Bio-based Polymers and Composites, (Elsevier 2005) and is available on Amazon.com.

HEALTH AND SAFETY, TOO

In addition to better buildings, soy can enhance the health and safety of people's lives too. Most recently, the United Soybean Board (USB) and the soybean checkoff have funded research investigating a soy-based larvicide that may have potential to protect society from the West Nile Virus.

So far, field data have indicated that an appropriately emulsified methyl soyate formulation is a more effective larvicide than current methods, while also offering safety and environmental advantages.

Currently tested in Wyoming, the use of this non-persistent, low-threshold odor and easy to apply formulation may prove to be more compatible with livestock and wildlife than the current petrochemical larvicides. The cost of the methyl soyate formulation is also estimated to be about half that of petrochemical controls. The soy-based larvicide is still being researched and is not presently on the market.