If necessity is the mother of invention, the soy checkoff could qualify as soy innovation’s favorite aunt. Checkoff support has helped researchers discover new uses for soy that have increased demand by almost 700 percent in a decade…and the numbers keep growing each year.
Sometimes research results in a breakthrough discovery of an entirely new technology. More often, knowledge shared by industry partners at checkoff-supported Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) meetings contribute to the creation of hundreds of soy-based products currently on the shelves of local retail stores.
“I was amazed to learn what researchers are doing with oil and meal,” says checkoff farmer-leader Jim Domagalski, a soybean farmer from Columbus, Michigan. “It was an eye opener to attend TAP meetings and see how a discovery by one company can turn soy into an entirely new material, way beyond what we’re used to seeing with food and feed.”
Initial research investments by the checkoff pay dividends when companies adopt and adapt them to create new products and applications.
Expanding the Market for Foam
Checkoff-supported research at Pittsburgh State University in Kansas led to the discovery of a new version of soy polyols in 2005. In conjunction with Cargill, soy polyols were incorporated into foam manufactured by Hickory Springs Manufacturing (HSM) for use in furniture and mattresses.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve created 140 different soy-based foams at different densities,” Bobby Bush, Jr., HSM senior vice president foam technology says. “Along the way, we learned customers value the green aspect of soy foam. Which is why we keep trying to increase the soy content of foam to help manufacturers make their products more sustainable.”
Last year, Demilec introduced Heatlok XT spray foam, which contains more than 20 percent soy polyols and recycled content. The new eco-friendly foam is expected to increase demand in the green-building market. Soy polyols are also being used in packaging and appliance insulation.
In 2008, Ford Motor Company used soy polyols to create foam seats in the Mustang. Soy foam is now in all of the vehicles it manufactures in North America, and Ford researchers continue to experiment with other soy derivatives as part of Ford’s corporate sustainability commitment.
Driving New Market Demand
While experimenting with soy-based elastomers for seals and gaskets, Ford researchers discovered soy helps rubber remain elastic for longer periods of time. Bridgestone and Goodyear put this knowledge to good use and are in the final stages of reworking their tire-manufacturing facilities to use soy.
“Henry Ford started using soy in his car parts way back in the 1930s,” Domagalski says. “Seeing how new technology is being discovered and shared with checkoff support makes me believe it will probably come back to that, soon. At a time when soy prices are low, it’s more important than ever to increase demand for soy, and part of that is finding new ways to use it.”