In London, OH, there's a building called “The House That Soy Built.” Complete with a kitchen, living room and bathroom, the house showcases just how diverse the multiple uses for soybeans have become.

From the finger-jointed lumber bonded with soy adhesive to the insulation, carpet backing, paints, cleaners, countertops, cabinetry and bath and body-care products — all were created with soy inputs. The house, located at the Farm Science Review, an outdoor exhibition, is a testament to how soy-based products are becoming part of every day living.

“Someone once said, ‘The soybean isn't very sexy, but the science of it sure is’ — and it is fascinating what soybeans can be utilized in,” says John Lumpe, director of new use development for the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC). Ohio is just one of many states conducting soybean research with checkoff funds to develop new uses and markets ranging from soyfoods to biodiesel.

Most recently, a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic made from soybean oil and developed through efforts by the OSC and research partner Battelle, was named as one of the top 100 products of 2002 by Research & Development (R&D) magazine.

Being named to this list is considered the most prestigious honor in applied research.

“Previous products on R&D's annual top 100 list have gone on to make a significant impact in the lives of humans, and we are proud to be a part of that,” says Lumpe of the recent recognition.

The soy-based PVC plastic has improved thermal stability over PVC plastics derived from petrochemicals and is environmentally friendly. It will have applications in everything from semi-rigid or flexible tubing to blood bags and other medical devices, says Lumpe.

A BRIGHT FUTURE

That's just one example of the bright future ahead for products derived from soybeans. In the last few years, newly developed soy-based industrial products have made an impact on small and large industries alike. “The growth and applications of soy-based products are expanding every day,” says Peter B. Johnsen, director of USDA's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, IL.

He says that the center's research effort ranges from small products like soy-based sunscreen lotions to the other end of the spectrum, with lubricating oil and hydraulic fluids. According to Johnsen, there are essentially two areas of development: commodity substitution applications, where petrochemicals are being replaced with soy oils; and novel applications, where new materials are being created with soy components.

“As we use soybeans for commodity substitution applications, we learn more about the interesting properties of soybeans and continue to find new and novel applications,” he adds. “These represent new markets and the opportunity to increase value for soybean producers.”

Consumers and manufacturers appear ready. “Every year we see another level of acceptance with soy products,” says Johnsen.

ADDITIONAL INDUSTRY BREAKTHROUGHS

Soy-based products like spray foam insulation and carpet backing are two additional soy-based products making a name for themselves in the construction industry. Although relatively new, these products have gained acceptance because they are high quality, cost-efficient and more earth friendly than traditional products.

For example, the soy-based spray foam insulation does not contain formaldehyde, is not affected by time or moisture, will not settle and is resistant to mold and mildew. Moreover, the insulation — created with a soy-based polyol called SoyOyl — provides better insulating qualities in 4" stud wall than traditional insulation does with 6" stud construction. And that can help reduce building costs.

SoyOyl is also the key ingredient in Biobalance, a polymer being manufactured by Dow Chemical Company for use in commercial carpet backing. Biobalance is being championed because it decreases the nation's dependence on petrochemical -based polymers and incorporates a renewable resource into the manufacturing process.

In 2002, Green Grip, a soy-based roofing coating, was commercialized in the construction industry. The coating, designed to deflect ultraviolet rays and reduce the amount of energy needed to cool a building, is the only roofing coating to earn Energy Star Label approval.

AUTOMOTIVE APPEAL

Soy-based polyurethanes are proving suitable for use in the automotive industry, too. Today, John Deere of Moline, IL, is using two types of soy-based plastic panels in its farm implements. The durability of these products is a good indication that this technology can be used in automotive body panels and structural parts in the future.

A soy-based polyurethane flexible foam is also in the research phase and has potential applications for automotive seat cushions.

Soybean oil-derived hydraulic fluid and lubricants are getting the green light for the hydraulic systems in front-end loaders, forklifts, tractors and other equipment. Research has shown that they protect metal better than petrochemical lubricants and are biodegradable.

The future, says USDA's Johnsen, is optimistic. “There have been events and policies that promote the use of green and renewable materials for the future, and that's encouraging for soybean applications,” he says.

“We just keep chipping away with our soybean research and making technological breakthroughs. Then we have product breakthroughs and soon some of those soy-based products become the preferred industry technology. And it's happening sooner than later,” says Johnsen.

MORE USES

The list of soy-based products continues to grow every year. Here are more products that have been developed:

  • Identifiers for ag commodities — Soy Works Corporation plans to market a soy-based pellet that can be used to visually identify ag commodities, helping to provide visual reinforcement of grain segregation.

    The edible, colored pellets can be left in grain and safely consumed by livestock, or they can be screened out.

    Historically, paper confetti or spray-on dyes have been used for marking ag commodities. But neither of these products can be removed once added to the grain, and confetti poses a fire hazard.

  • Solvents and cleaners — A host of soy-based cleaning agents have been created, primarily because of their biodegradable, gentle-cleaning properties. Soy Blaster is a soy-based graffiti remover from Allchem Products. Soy Technologies has developed Soy Green, a cleaner and stripper available in three formulations, and Soy Derm, a waterless hand cleaner. Gemtek Products, Inc., introduced EZ Solv, a soy-based ink cleaner; MaxiSolv, a soy-based precision cleaner; and SC Supersolve, an industrial solvent based on methyl soyate.

  • Additional soy-based cleaners were developed by Copia Labs, which debuted BOS 130M, a textile ink cleaner, and Copia Cleaner HR, a printing ink cleaner.

  • ACE 50 is a soy-based concrete mold release product manufactured by Terresolve Technologies, Inc. It will help replace diesel fuel, the most common concrete mold release agent used by the industry, providing a safer product for workers and the environment.