SOY PLASTICS: VERSATILE AND COST EFFECTIVE
As prices for petroleum continue to rise, manufacturers search for alternatives to petrochemical components for plastics. The United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff have partnered with various links in the supply chain to research, test and include soy-based plastics in products.
Soy-based plastics can be divided into two main segments: polyurethane using soy polyols and thermosets. Each segment has great growth potential, from the farmers who grow the soybeans to the manufacturers that utilize them to the end user that benefits from a high-quality product.
As more manufacturers look for alternatives to high petroleum prices, soy-based plastics provide a viable option. The versatility and lower production costs make soy plastics an area primed for rapid growth.
Polyurethanes using soy polyols include urethane foams, binders, coatings, adhesives and sealants. Soy polyols are proven to perform exactly like their petroleum counterparts or even better in some cases when is comes to total weight, strength and durability. The versatility and cost-saving aspects of soy polyols also make it a popular alternative. Several manufacturers have created soy polyol products, and these intermediates are producing impressive applications, such as carpet-backing agents, spray-foam insulations, body panels on agricultural equipment and other products.
A soy-based polyol is combined with isocyanate to create a polyurethane resin system. Urethane Soy Systems Company (USSC), in partnerships with South Dakota Soybean Processors, USB and the soybean checkoff, developed the patented soy-based polyol, Soyol. Since its creation, Soyol has been used in various rigid and flexible polyurethane foam applications, including as a carpet-backing agent.
A fairly new product currently utilizing Soyol available from USSC is SoyTherm 50, a two-component, open-celled rigid polyurethane foam insulation. SoyTherm 50 offers the benefits of being free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and asbestos along with requiring less energy to produce.
BioBased Systems, LLC, is using a special soy polyol called Agrol to produce soy-based spray foam insulation. The product contains no micro fibers and has a high R-value. It offers insulating benefits such as improved health conditions, increased comfort, better energy efficiency and improved durability, and it’s environmentally responsible. Agrol contains functionalities of 1.8, 2.8, 3.0 and 4.0, which can be used in a variety of applications from flexible to case and rigid foams.
Plastic composites and polyurethanes present another exciting segment for soy. Technology in this area includes plastic body and interior parts for automobiles, boats and even agricultural equipment used to harvest soybeans and other oilseed crops. This full-circle usage could potentially replace an estimated 300 million pounds of all thermoset resins in a market totaling 2.7 billion in North America alone.
Ford Motor Company has continued research into biobased foams and plastics for use in automobile body panels and interior parts. In 2003, Ford showcased the Model U concept vehicle, which contains soy-based polyurethane seats. Ford has successfully researched the use of soy-based polyols in the development of soy foam for inclusion in automobile seating applications.
In 2005, four versions of Ashland Specialty Chemical Company’s ENVIREZ, a soy-based thermoset polyester resin, were made available. Major agricultural OEMs, such as John Deere and Case New Holland, adopted the technology for a low-profile thermoset sheet-molding compound for tractor hoods and covers. Over one million pounds of soy-based thermoset resins have been used for agricultural equipment panels. Other companies using ENVIREZ include Green Products, Inc., for specialty-filament-wound tanks.