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 polyols which are being used in 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. Biobased Technologies, LLC, in partnership with, USB and the soybean checkoff, developed the patented soy-based polyol, Agrol. Since its creation, Agrol has been used in various rigid and flexible polyurethane foam applications. Agrol contains functionalities of 2.0, 2.8, 3.0, 3.6, 4.3, 5.6, and 7.0. Biobased Technologies also markets Agrol PRIME, STAR, PLATINUM and AO+ soy-based polyurethane products, and Soyol polyols.

Demilec USA is using a special soy polyol  to create Heatlok Soy, an insulation that combines an air barrier, water resistive barrier, vapor barrier, drain plane and high R-value insulation in a single, efficient application.

Plastic Composites

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 hundreds of millions of pounds of all thermoset resins 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. Soy-based polyols are now used to manufacture the foam seats of every 2014 Ford vehicle.

In 2005, four versions of Ashland Specialty Chemical Company’s ENVIREZ, a soy-based thermoset polyester resin, were developed. 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.