FROM FIELDS TO FACTORIES: NEW INDUSTRIAL USES FOR SOYBEANS
, by Jeremy Nulik
As part of his effort to make Ford Motor Company a steward of the environment, Henry Ford became one of the first well-recognized users of soy-based products when he incorporated soy plastic into his automobile panels back in the 1940s.
From The Ground Up
For many years, organizations such as the United Soybean Board (USB) and the soybean checkoff have been working to make soy-based products possible. Soybean farmers see new industrial uses for soybeans as a viable way to stay competitive and raise demand for U.S. soybeans.
"Many of the industrial soy-based products that are on the market today are there due to research funded by the soybean checkoff," says Eric Niemann, a soybean farmer from Nortonville, Kan., and the USB New Uses Committee chair. "Research funded by USB continues paying dividends long after a project is completed."
A number of manufacturers and distributors are quick to give credit to the soybean checkoff for the successful research and marketing of their products.
"USB has supported our efforts from day one," says Jim Lambert, CEO of Agro Management Group Inc. (AMG), a leading manufacturer and distributor of soy-based lubricants. "Without the help of the soybean checkoff, we could not have achieved the level of overall success of our products that we have realized today."
Biobased Manufacturer's Association (BMA) also is emerging as a promoter and marketer of soy-based products. BMA is a membership organization that works to promote excellence in the manufacturing, sale and use of biobased products and the responsible development of renewable resources.
A Recipe For Success
The outlook for soy-based products appearing in new and emerging markets grows more optimistic with each new research development. In recent months, the market for soy-based products has been rapidly increasing in opportunities.
"The biobased qualities of our products have become market drivers," says Lambert. "That was not true 10 years ago. I think that we are going to see more large companies getting involved in incorporating soy into their product lines."
This enthusiasm for soy-based products is further encouraged by new studies and government involvement. Just last year, an evaluation done by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that soy polyols, an ingredient in some soy-based plastics, have only one-quarter the level of total environmental impact of petroleum-based ingredients. That means that the entire life cycle, from growing the soybeans to using them in plastics or other products, was examined.
These results attract manufacturers and end users that face ever-increasing government restrictions on pollution and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions caused by using traditional products.
The most recent farm bill included a first-ever bioproducts initiative, encouraging government agencies to use biobased products. The initiative will require federal agencies to purchase biobased products if they meet the following criteria: their cost is not unreasonably higher, they are readily available and they meet performance requirements. This is encouraging for manufacturers and vendors of soy-based products and allows them to position their products as preferred when marketing to the federal government.
USB is already providing important information on the availability of more than 40 categories of soy-based products to federal users, and federal government agencies have taken notice of the benefits. They are currently using soy-based products such as soy-based carpet backing, two-cycle engine oil, mastic removers, hand cleaners, general-purpose cleaners and soy ink. And with federal agencies currently purchasing more than $235 billion in goods and services, new soy-based products have great growth opportunities.
"The government market is large and provides a great jump-start for these emerging markets," says Sueanne Pfifferling, a USB subcontractor. "Federal agencies can provide a model for the private sector and state and local governments as well."
With entities such as the federal government, private researchers and industry organizations working together toward a common goal, the stage is set for exciting soy-based products to continue to be successful.
One of the fastest-growing market areas for soy is the manufacture of soy-based plastics. Products such as carpet backing and truck bedliners are made from soy polyols, one type of soy plastic. The potential for soy-based polyols is considerable. Today, the U.S. market for petroleum-based polyols is 3 billion pounds per year and 9 billion pounds worldwide.
BioBased Systems and BioPolymers LLC, two makers of soy-based spray-foam insulation, have had success using this soy polyol technology. Besides being environmentally friendly and competitively priced compared with petroleum-based foam insulation, both companies' products offer performance advantages over traditional insulation methods.
When the soy-based insulation is sprayed, it expands to 100 times its original liquid size. Also, the insulation is energy efficient and, as a result, saves businesses and homeowners heating and cooling costs. The products are also nonbiodegradable and have low VOC emissions.
Case IH is utilizing a soy-based resin for the exterior trim panels on the AFX Series combines. Using the soy-based thermoset resin composites helped Case IH achieve a significant weight reduction of more than 400 pounds on each combine.
Another farm equipment leader, John Deere, has used a soy-based polyester resin for several years in its combine Model 9750. As of Dec. 31, 2003, John Deere used more than 500,000 pounds of the soy-based resin. Due to the performance advantages, the soy-based polyester is now being considered in other John Deere tractor products and lawn equipment.
"The soy-based polyester has excellent physical performance related to strength and elasticity, improved impact resistance, better surface quality and corrosion resistance," says John Cerny, engineer at John Deere. "These features make the polyester ideal for use in farm machinery that will be exposed to environmental elements."
The soy solvents market area owes much of its success to the development and availability of methyl soyate. The soybean oil-based ester may be used as a replacement for other, more toxic ingredients or as a co-solvent blend where worker safety or environmental concerns arise.
Mark Henneberry, vice president of product development and marketing at Florida Chemical Company, credits the success of his CITRUSoy products line to the combined action of the citrus and soy ingredients, including methyl soyate.
"There is great synergism between our soybean oil-derived and citrus-derived ingredients, making CITRUSoy products ideal for many consumer product applications," says Henneberry.
Methyl soyate, the soy ingredient in CITRUSoy products, offers natural cleaning and degreasing characteristics with low VOC emissions, low hazardous air pollutants, low toxicity and a high flash point. Methyl soyate is also readily biodegradable.
Soy Paints and Coatings
The overall market for paints and coatings in the United States tops 1.2 billion gallons. Half of the coatings market consists of architectural coatings for both home and commercial applications.
Shedd Aquarium, one of the top tourist attractions in Chicago, took advantage of soy-based products to revitalize its rooftop. The landmark operators applied ELMS® Natural Bitumen Jacket™ (NBJ), manufactured by Green Products LLC, Romeoville, Ill.
"Using soybean oil instead of petroleum oil in products like NBJ helps us maintain the outstanding performance that customers expect from our products, but in a more environmentally friendly manner," says Lance Niemann, chemist and inventor of NBJ. "What's more, overall installed cost of the liquid-applied membrane is substantially less then conventional roof recovery systems."
Products like NBJ, which is an Energy Star® approved reflective white coating, reduce the higher temperatures that create the "urban heat island effect" documented by NASA in major U.S. metropolitan cities. NBJ is more cost effective than formulas that use nonrenewable resources and provides a 100-percent waterproof seamless membrane in a single-coat application, something other Energy Star liquid products cannot obtain. In this way, NBJ not only makes roofs white but also waterproof.
Although petroleum oil has been the ingredient of choice because of economic and performance characteristics, alternative products are beginning to compete with traditional lubricants in several niche segments, including hydraulic fluids, two-cycle engine oils and bar chain oils.
Soybean oil is a natural lubricant and has a high viscosity index, much better than mineral oil, and is low in volatility, which are ideal traits for lubricants. However, conventional soybean oil does not have strong oxidative stability, causing it to break down in high-temperature applications. Research is under way to increase oxidative stability either by producing a soybean with higher oleic content or by chemically modifying the conventional soybean oil currently available in the marketplace.
Wood adhesives made from soybeans have been in existence for more than 70 years. However, with the introduction of effective petroleum-based adhesives in the 1930s, soy adhesives were replaced. Recent government regulations placed on the lumber industry have mills looking at green alternatives to chemical-based adhesives.
The PRF/Soy 2000 adhesive system includes a blend of soy-based Eka 3050, manufactured by Eka Chemicals Inc., and a conventional phenol-resorcinol-formaldehyde (PRF) resin.
The finger-jointed lumber system utilizes scrap lumber, both dry and green, that is normally discarded and converts it into useful lumber for structural and nonstructural uses. The scraps are bonded together with the PRF on one side and Eka 3050 on the other, creating a finger-jointed engineered lumber that has a greater tensile strength than the wood itself. Normally, only dry lumber is used in a finger-jointed system; however, when using PRF/Soy 2000, manufacturers can utilize green lumber scraps as well. This technology also eliminates the knots, which allows for lower VOC emissions during the kiln-drying process.
Even with these encouraging results from government agencies, researchers and manufacturers, USB and other soybean industry stakeholders such as BMA refuse to rest on their laurels. They are relentless in finding new and better ways to open markets to soy-based products. This research is wide-ranging. It includes breeding programs to enhance the compositional qualities of the soybeans to make them more profitable for manufacturers of soy-based products and scientific performance testing of current soy-based products to see how they stack up against their competitors.
"As the global market becomes more competitive, it's crucial that we continue to research innovative new uses for U.S. soybeans that go beyond biodiesel," says Eric Niemann. "USB will continue to use soybean checkoff funds to strive to make our current products better and locate our markets where we can achieve the greatest growth." Y
Soybean Farmer Company Ventures Along The Open Road Of Posibilities
South Dakota Soybean Processors (SDSP) is taking multiple avenues toward ensuring continued demand for soybeans. A group of soybean farmers formed SDSP in 1993 and built a soybean processing plant in Volga, S.D., to crush 50,000 bushels of soybeans per day. Today, the 2,100 soybean farmers of SDSP are processing 80,000 bushels per day and looking at other routes to add value to their business and leverage their product, primarily through relationships with Urethane Soy Systems Company (USSC) and the Minnesota Soybean Processors (MnSP).
"We are excited about the ever-growing potential of soy-based products and are thrilled with the early success of SoyOyl in plastics," says Rodney Christianson, CEO of SDSP, USSC and MnSP.
SoyOyl is used in manufacturing polyurethane plastics. Suited for flexible and rigid applications, SoyOyl is currently used in a variety of polyurethane applications ranging from molded seating foam to carpet backing to truck bedliners to spray-foam insulation for walls.
Until the development of SoyOyl, the polyols used in polyurethane production have been made almost entirely from petroleum derivatives. Through using biobased polyols such as SoyOyl, the impact to the environment is reduced, as is the demand on petroleum reserves. SoyOyl also requires less energy to produce, which passes along cost savings to end users.
According to Larry Armbruster, director of market development and sales for USSC, there is a growing interest in environmentally friendly products. Armbruster said that since the biobased procurement guidelines were published in December, USSC has received an increased number of requests for samples or information.
"A lot of companies are turning to green products in general, but they don't only want green. They want a high-quality product that will perform, plus be environmentally friendly," says Armbruster. "SoyOyl is that product."
USSC's primary customers include: Dow Chemical Company, which uses SoyOyl in its BIOBALANCE carpet backing; Bayer/John Deere, which uses SoyOyl in Reaction Injection Molding (RIM) panels on combines; and Ford Motor Company, which used the SoyOyl polyol in its flexible foam seats in the 2003 Model U concept car.
Another goal of USSC is to increase the percentage of SoyOyl used in polyurethane products. Currently, most of USSC's clients replace 20 percent to 25 percent of the petroleum-based polyols in a product with SoyOyl. USSC is working to increase the SoyOyl substitution to 40 percent to 45 percent.
"We are taking a pragmatic approach to increasing the percentage of SoyOyl our customers use. Through incremental increases of SoyOyl, we build trust in our product," says Christianson. "In the next five to eight years, it is very possible that 100 percent of polyols will be biobased."
To research, develop and scientifically validate SoyOyl, USSC received financial support through grants from the United Soybean Board (USB) and the soybean checkoff. USB also recently commissioned an independent market study to determine potential demand for SoyOyl. The North American demand for SoyOyl biobased polyols is projected to exceed 700 million pounds within five years, and international demand should at least equal this amount.
"We see this as the very beginning of soy-based products, and we see a great potential for other polyols and urethane applications. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and we are excited about what we can do with it," says Armbruster.
SDSP's vision for the road ahead is focused on adding value to the nation's agricultural resources. Committed to continue growing the demand for soy-based products, SDSP is on the right track with its relationships with USSC and MnSP. Y
Jeremy Nulik is account coordinator for Osborn & Barr Communications, St. Louis.