Soy-based products are biodegradable, and they have fewer harmful emissions or petroleum-based chemicals. These are just a few of a long list of attributes that have boosted soybeans' popularity.

Today, soy products are finding a fit for the future in energy alternatives, cleaning and construction products, earth-friendly plastics and other materials. Here's a roundup of some of the newest — and neatest — innovations.

Energy And Electricity

BioHeat, a soy-based heating oil, is helping to warm homes. BioHeat burns cleaner than its petroleum counterparts and reduces dependence on foreign oil. Studies show that BioHeat significantly reduces harmful emissions, has a higher flash point and leaves less smoke and odor than conventional heating oil.

Soybean oil is generating electricity in all-new electrical transformers in Xcel Energy's eight-state service territory serving 3.3 million customers. The transformers are filled with Cooper Power Systems' Envirotemp FR3 fluid, replacing the petroleum-based mineral oil that was traditionally used. FR3 fluid is a soy-based biodegradable, dielectric coolant that offers an improved environmental profile and enhanced transformer performance.

Continued efforts to bring fuel-cell technology powered by soy oil are on the horizon as well. Development is underway of a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) system that can run on a wide variety of fuels, including raw soybean oil. The fuel cell system has the potential to create electricity, as well as heat a home or barn.

Construction To Coatings

As green construction continues to grow in the U.S., advancements are also continuing with soy-based products being developed for four different categories: adhesives, coatings, lubricants and plastics. They are favored because of their environmental and economic advantages compared to similar petro-chemical products.

Checkoff leaders project the construction industry has the potential to use 150 million pounds of soy polyols by the year 2013.

Soy-based adhesives have been used in making plywood for more than 70 years. And new research is showing that using soy flour offers a safer alternative to formaldehyde in plywood adhesives.

Other current soy-based applications for the construction industry include insulation, molded millwork, doors and panels and soy-backed carpeting. Additionally, soy concrete stains are acid-free and nontoxic stains that work for all interior and exterior porous surfaces such as concrete, masonry, brick, stucco, fiber cement and natural stone surfaces.

An example is C2 Product's Jelly Bean concrete pigment, a soy-based pigment pack that can stain and safely seal pervious concrete in one process — with no negative environmental impact.

One of the newest insulating products for consumers is Soy Seal, a spray-applied foam sealant that expands to fill and seal gaps and cracks — and reduce energy loss. It's launched by BioBased Insulation, the industry leader in biologically-based spray polyurethane foam insulation for buildings. Their next product to be released is Soy Seal for windows and doors, a low-pressure foam that prevents damage or bowing to windows and doors and repels water to prevent moisture and mold problems. Soy Seal is available in select Home Depot stores.

Soy-based coatings have also shown their versatility in new applications, including ultraviolet and electron beam curing, roof coatings and faux finishing in building artwork. A soy-based powder coating developed in conjunction with the Ohio Soybean Council and several commercial partners coats everything from refrigerators to tractor panels.

It is sprayed as dry powder and then cured under heat as high as 130° C (266° F) to allow it to bind to the material on which it is applied. Since many plastic and wood materials are heat-sensitive, the soy coating provides an alternative without the heat limitation. This product earned one of only 100 R&D magazine awards in 2008.

More Ahead

The sky is truly the limit when it comes to the imaginative, innovative and earth-friendly products being developed with soybeans. Here is just a sampling of a few more innovations on the horizon:

  • Hogs may soon be eating from soy-based plastic composite feeders, thanks to ongoing Iowa State University research.

  • Soybean oil and a combination of bio-based products comprise Nature's Broom ? a granular absorbent product to soak up liquid spills including chemicals, hydrocarbons, oil, fuel and more. The product uses soy to help encapsulate liquid into little balls that can be easily swept away. It is proving to be a more effective and cheaper alternative to most clay-based absorbents.

  • Athletic turf made by AstroTurf features new BioCel technology, a soy-based unitary polyurethane backing system which is unaffected by moisture, can be perforated for enhanced drainage, and has low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The product is used on athletic fields, and is gaining popularity on golf courses and for residential uses.

  • A soy-based larvicide to help control mosquitoes and the spread of mosquito-borne diseases is being developed. Soy was chosen as an ingredient due to the quality and availability of methyl soyate. It was shown to be superior to oil-based larvicides, giving 90-95% larvae control. It is less expensive than current mineral oil larvicides, and most important, the soy-based larvicide is safe to apply and has almost no effect on non-target organisms. Testing has been conducted over the last few years, and more is proposed in 2009.

  • Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have developed soy-based thermo-sensitive hydrogels, which may be used in medical devices, soft contact lenses, drug delivery systems and wound dressings. The ARS hydrogels are prepared from soybean oil and are sensitive to temperature. This is an advantage over existing hydrogels since they are biodegradable, non-toxic and, in many cases, cost less than petroleum-based materials, which are commonly used to produce hydrogels.

Find an overview of additional soy-based products and technologies at www.soynewuses.com.

special recognition for soy

The soybean industry can tout two special awards earned in 2008 for soy-based products' contributions to protecting the environment.

  • North Carolina Army Base Fort Bragg earned the White House Closing the Circle award for integrating nationally accepted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards in the design, construction, maintenance and operation of its infrastructure. This includes the use of environmentally friendly soy products.

    Liz Garner, a sales account manager for LC Industries, Fort Bragg's supply store, says they promote at least 11 soy-based products on the base. One especially well received product is a soy foam degreaser at the base's motor pool, which has proved to be extremely effective in removing grease from military vehicles and heavy-duty lawn mowers.

    Other winners of the Closing the Circle award that use soy-based products include the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps., U.S. Army, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. The award recognizes the outstanding achievements of federal employees and facilities demonstrating environmental stewardship in waste prevention, recycling and green purchasing activities, environmental management, green/sustainable building, electronics stewardship and alternate fuel usage.

  • The EPA's Presidential Green Chemistry award was given for a soy-based toner developed in Ohio. The award recognizes less toxic alternatives to existing technologies, and reducing or eliminating waste generated from industrial production.

The Ohio Soybean Council (OSC), Battelle and Advanced Image Resources (AIR) were key investors in the research, development and commercialization of soy resins and toner — expected to change printers and copiers around the globe. AIR will produce the soy-based resin that serves as the building block for the new toner, to be sold under the trade names BioRez and Rezilution.