Love to see these efforts around creating renewable versions of proven materials and carrying over many of the same characteristics so they have high utility for materials engineers. Makes it very easy to go the sustainability route when the choices are just part of good, everyday design practices.
I also think it's cool that this cavity foam using a non-food renewable material that's a byproduct of food production. Many materials companies are getting on the bandwagon to ensure that their feedstocks are really green: both renewable and non-competitive with the human food supply.
@Ann: Calling soybean oil a "byproduct of food production" rather than a food product is a little disingenuous. Soybean oil is one of the most widely-consumed cooking oils.
It's true that the soy flakes, which remain after the oil is extracted, are used as animal feed (and for soy protein for human consumption). Using the oil as an industrial feedstock wouldn't affect this use.
Of course, soybean oil is already widely used in industry -- for instance, it's used to make ink -- and it seems unlikely that the (relatively) small amount of additional soybean oil which would be used to make these foams would have any impact on the price or supply of cooking oil.
Dave, the spec Dow provided was 1.45 gm/cc. Note that that's 25 percent less dense than the previous product at 2.0 gm/cc. James did not provide price details, or mention sheet forms of this product or any other future plans regarding it.
Dave, at least one of the specs were on their presentations and they were also given in the interview. I find it tough to believe that anyone at Dow would mistake units of measurement. I've sent an email asking them to verify the spec.
We've just heard back from Allan James, the person I interviewed at Dow. The spec he gave me was, in fact, wrong--thanks to Dave Palmer for pointing that out. James says the correct measurements are 1.45 pcf for BETAFOAM Renue and 2.0 pcf for the product being replaced.
It's not disingenuous, but rather a matter of definition. "Food crop" means a crop like corn or soybeans or wheat that people depend on for sustenance, not an oil derived from one of those that is used in cooking. Soybean oil may be used in cooking and an ingredient in animal feed, but it's not human or animal food. That's the major difference. Another difference, which is very hard to determine (I've tried often to get this data), is whether a feedstock comes from a potential food crop like corn or soybeans that is grown specifically to make that feedstock, or the feedstock is created from "waste" material of that crop that would normally be thrown away.
@Ann: I guess you're right that it's a matter of definitions. To me, "food" means something that people eat. People eat soybean oil, so soybean oil is a food. (If you read some food labels the next time you're in the grocery store, you'll see how just many foods contain soybean oil -- it's a surprising large part of the modern U.S. diet). Allan James' statement that soybean oil is an industrial product is true, but may be somewhat misleading; currently, only 4% of U.S. soybean oil is used for industrial purposes. The rest is used for food.
In fact, a far greater percentage of soy oil than soy protein is used for direct human consumption. Only about 2% of soy protein is directly consumed by humans; the rest is used as animal feed.
I think we agree, though, that it matters less whether soybean oil is a food product per se than what the overall impact on the food supply is. I don't see soy-based polyurethane foams having a significant impact on global food prices or availability in the way that, say, widespread use of soy-based biodiesel or corn-based ethanol would.
Interesting article Ann. I'll have to get me some.
One thing to be aware of is trapping water next to metal that foam used like this can cause.
As for the food vs fuel debate almost no food is not being made because of biofuels. Why is the acreage has increased as has the yield/acre that is far above what is used for biofuels.
Next only part of the crop is used. When making ethanol one also has dried mash which is a higher quality food for animals or humans. Plus one gets .5gal corn oil, stalks, cobs to spread the EROI, ROI making ethanol more eff than gasoline if you use their EROI method for both.
As for soy again only part of the plant, the oil is used but you still have bean meal and just as important the N2 in the soil it grew in. One normally rotates 1 soy, one corn crop for this and other reasons. Again acreage for soy has increased from non used lands and yields have increased.
One should also know a good part of the corn crop goes for chemical production, more than feeding cattle, etc or ethanol uses.
Fact is we grow far more than we need which is good because the rest of the world is going to need it and we need the cash. So likely many more new acres and yield increases are in our future.
Myself as many know drive my EV's at 25% of a similar fueled car all costs included. But for national and economic security we need biofuels and other ones like fuels from plastics. other wastes plus NG added to EV's and far more eff cars, trucks.
The amount of corn grown for and used in non-food and non-ethanol uses is truly astonishing, since some of that corn could be feeding people or animals instead of driving up demand and therefore prices. OTOH, corn grown for animal food is a different variety from corn grown for people food.
I think quibbling over whether cooking oil is food diverts from the real issue of why we're talking about food crops, which is, as you mention, the impact on the food supply. Regardless of how we define food, the fact is that cooking oils do not sustain life, but soybeans and corn do. The point in the "not from food crops" discussion is whether a bioplastic feedstock comes directly from a food crop that could have fed people--and thus helps drive up its price, making it harder for them to eat--or indirectly from a byproduct of food production. The most byproduct-y byproduct would be trash or waste from that food crop's production, so the food crop goes directly to feeding people and a waste product, such as corn husks or cobs, from that same crop went to produce the bioplastic.
Currently, there are several different technolgies trying to find a use for that waste material. Especially in the area of corn. However, with the creation of ethonal the density of that material makes it difficult. As well as the amount of material that must be used to create something like ethonal. Farmers would love to find a way to make use of this material. It will be neat to see if they can come up with something like this that will be profitable for all.
I also love to see technology trying to find a way to use this waste material. I am interested in how the material goes from byproduct to foam. In the case of ethanol they are trying to take the energy out of the corn stocks to make a fuel. In this case it sounds like they have a greater chance of success because it doesn't sound like the chemical composition is as critical. Perhaps I am simplifying it a little bit, but it does sound promising.
@Ann: Are you sure that the density is 1.45 g/cm³? This is equivalent to 90 pounds per cubic foot. At this density, the foam would sink in water. The density of a typical polyurethane sound-absorbing foam is around 2 pounds per cubic foot (about 0.03 g/cm³). Are you sure the density wasn't given in U.S. units, rather than metric units?
Generally, the sound absorption of foams depends on the frequency of the sound. Any indication of what frequency range this foam is best suited for?
Also, any word on whether Dow has any plans to market this material in sheet form? Or will it be sold only as an injectable cavity foam?
Finally, how does the cost of the soy-based polyurethane compare to petroleum-based polyurethanes? This will definitely be a big factor in its acceptance.
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