News headlines have made soy-based foam well known because it was used in the seat cushions of the Ford Mustang – and it continues to be used by several automotive makers.
But soy-based foam developed from soy polyols is also turning up in a lot of other products: from furniture and mattresses to wind-turbine blades, wake surfboards and military drones used for target practice. More than 30 furniture companies use soy foam in manufacturing their furniture.
Why the appeal? Many companies like the earth-friendly properties of soy – which allow them to develop great products while reducing their environmental footprint.
Ned McMahon, a partner with Malama Composites, San Diego, puts it this way: “Malama dedicates itself to clean chemistry, and that’s why we use largely soy-based polyols.”
The company makes “green” wake surfboards, wind-turbine blades, construction materials and military target drones all with soy foam developed from a 40% soy polyol.
Since Malama’s foam can be used for many applications, it is designed to cater to its specific use. For instance, Malama adjusts the foams density from 2 to 10 lbs. “A wind blade for a small wind turbine requires less density than a blade for a 60-ft.-tall commercial wind turbine,” says McMahon. “Depending on the amount of sheer strength needed, we adjust our foam formulations.”
McMahon reports that the performance of soy-based composites is similar to their petroleum counterparts. Many customers prefer it because of its green content. One example is the military drones the company manufactures that are used for target practice and shot down over the desert. “Many of the smaller pieces are left, so having sustainable materials like soy reduces environmental impact,” says McMahon.