WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A team of Purdue University students devised a home heating fuel oil that is less expensive and burns cleaner than regular fuel oil, earning first place in the seventh annual New Uses for Soybeans Student Contest.

The Indiana Soybean Board and the Purdue School of Agriculture sponsored the contest, which promotes using innovative ways to incorporate soybeans into products. The winning team received $4,500.

Their soy heating oil mixes 20 percent soybean oil with regular fuel oil and can be used without making any changes to existing heating systems. The estimated cost of the blended oil is 10 percent less than the cost of fuel oil alone.

Members of the winning team are Matt Peter of Odon, Ind., Louis Cassens of West Lafayette, Ind. and Rebekah Kennedy of Akron, Ohio. All are seniors in the School of Agriculture. Team advisor was Hartono Sumali, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

The soy heating oil has a 2 percent lower heating value than regular heating oil, but the small heat loss is more than offset by the lower product cost, according to team members. ''Some of the fuel oil smell is also gone," said Cassens. ''You do detect some of the soybean smell, but that is not as bothersome as the smell of sulfur.''

Finishing second in the contest were the creators of Soyastic, a plastic made with soybeans. The Soyastic team described their product as a homemade plastic that could easily be used to make repairs or craft items. The team members, all in the School of Agriculture, were Erica Clerc, of Elkhart, Ind., Karen Lewis of

Seymour, Ind., and Leah Maxwell of Francesville, Ind. Martin Okos, professor of biochemical and food process engineering, advised the team.

Kennedy predicts the soy heating oil will find a market, especially with the types of winter heating bills consumers recently experienced. ''No one likes change, but the cost may be the most tempting thing for homeowners,'' she said.

Peter said he was surprised to learn how many potential uses for soybeans there were when he entered the contest. Looking at the fuel reserves that were on hand for the most recent heating season, the team estimated that 7.4 million barrels of soybean oil could have been blended with the existing fuel oil. That would have created a potential market for more than 222 million bushels of soybeans. ''That would really help farmers,'' Peter said.