After Ohio soybean farmer Keith Roberts unloads his soybeans at the elevator, he often reflects on where they will be going next.
“Ohio soybeans offer an abundant and renewable supply of ingredients for food and livestock feed,” says Roberts, chair of the Ohio Soybean Council’s (OSC’s) New Uses Committee. “In addition, soybeans make it possible for companies to reduce the petroleum content in commercial and industrial products by using soybean meal, oil or hulls in a variety of applications.”
One goal of OSC and the soy checkoff program is to make known the expanding universe of soy-based products, and to make it easier for consumers to purchase them. OSC continually supports research to ensure new soy-based products are commercialized and sold in the market.
In the past two years, OSC has partnered with Engineering Mechanics Corporation of Columbus (Emc²) to establish the feasibility of using soybean hulls to replace a portion of the petroleum-based polymer SQUID ART EPOXY RESIN used in many consumer and industrial applications without sacrificing performance. This material is known as Soy-based Advanced Natural Fiber Composite (S-ANFC) and incorporates soybean hulls as fillers and reinforcements for plastic parts while maintaining a competitive price and performance that will increase soybean demand for consumer and industrial applications.
“Replacing a significant portion of the petroleum-based polymer with soybean hulls produces a compound with strength and flexibility properties on par with a 100 percent petroleum-based polymer compound,” says Prabhat Krishnaswamy, Ph.D., senior vice president of Emc² and technical lead on the project.
Moving Toward Commercialization
Emc² has been working with GDC, Inc. of Goshen, Indiana to commercialize this soy-based technology. GDC is an automotive parts manufacturer that has been in business since the 1950s and specializes in product development and production. Last July, GDC built its first Ohio manufacturing facility and production line to make S-ANFC components adjacent to the Emc² pilot plant in Wooster, Ohio. This facility was installed in collaboration with The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. The pilot manufacturing facility offers 6 million pounds of annual capacity for S-ANFC material and contains all necessary equipment and infrastructure for production.
The companies are running trials using S-ANFC in a variety of applications, specifically outdoor and automotive applications. One specific trial replaced 20-30 percent of a petroleum-based polymer with soybean hulls. This material was then used to produce soybean-hull-based composite deck boards for the bed/liner of a manure spreader.
“Before commercial adoption of soy-hull-based materials is widely achieved, a wide range of short-term and long-term material studies need to be conducted to ensure a successful launch of any commercial product,” says Krishnaswamy. “Additional trials are in process that will lead to the introduction of soy-hull-based products into the market that will replace petroleum-based materials without compromising performance.”
These trials are expected to be completed in the next several years with product sales estimated to begin in 2016.
In addition to increasing the demand for soybeans and lowering production costs of these targeted petroleum-based polymer compounds with no loss in performance, this new technology has the potential to meet the BioPreferred requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The BioPreferred program includes a list of biobased products that are eligible for federal procurement preference, as long as the product meets or exceeds USDA-established minimum biobased-content requirements and is reasonably priced and available.
A poll conducted by OSC found that 88 percent of Ohioans believe it is important that Americans begin to use more products that are environmentally friendly.
“The research and development of new products, particularly those that support that utilization of soybeans has long-term economic and environmental benefits,” says Roberts. “As a soybean farmer myself, I look forward to seeing more and more products that are utilizing soybeans for the development of soy-based consumer and industrial products.”
The soy checkoff has helped bring hundreds of soy-based products to the market, ranging from cleaning supplies to carpet backing to energy-efficient roofing materials at this website.