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Soybeans Replace Oil in New Polyurethane Foams

DN Staff

July 6, 2010

4 Min Read
Soybeans Replace Oil in New Polyurethane Foams

Soybeanfeedstocks used to manufacture polymers are rapidly emerging, leading tosignificant potential for replacement of oil-based materials.

According to the United Soybean Board, a U.S.-farmer-led organization,these new soy-based products have been recently introduced:

  • SoySeal - soy-based canned insulating foams being sold at hardware stores, fromBioBased Technologies

  • Polylite31325-00 - unsaturated polyester resin for composites, from Reichhold Chemical

  • Renuva- soy-based natural oil polyols used to make bedding foams for SimmonsBedding's Natural Care Collection, from Dow Polyurethanes

  • SoyFoam- soyFoam for seats/headrests/armrests in the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe, Sonatasedan and the 2009 Kia Amanti sedan, from Lear. Lear will also supply GeneralMotors with Soy foam for its trucks and SUVs as well as Ford for the seats inthe Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKE, from Lear

  • HoneyBee - soy-based polyols for use in Chromcraft molded-furniture seating foams,from MCPU Polymer Engineering

  • Ecoflex- a mattress product line named Equilibrio Natural Ecoflex that uses foam basedon Dow Chemical's Renuva Natural Oil Polyols in the comfort layers of themattresses, from foam and mattress manufacturer Ecoflex

  • GreenComfort - sandals containing Renuva Natural Oil Polyols in the polyurethanesole, from shoe manufacturer Grupo Ravi and Wal-Mart.

Soybeans Replace Oil in New Polyurethane Foams

Soybeans Replace Oil in New Polyurethane Foams_A1

Marty Ross,vice chairman of the USB New Uses program and a soybean farmer in Delaware,says: "To see this many products come to fruition year in and year out with thehelp of the soybean checkoff is amazing."

The USB'sU.S. soybean research and promotion program is known as the soybean checkoff.

There is a strongtrend away from using foodstuffs as a feedstock for bioplastics. But the USB saysnot to worry. A USB study maintains that industrial demand for soybean oil forbiodiesel and soy-based products increases the supply of soybean meal, whichcan be used to produce more food. Oil makes up just 18 percent of a soybeanwhile the remainder consists of protein-rich meal.

One of thefirst efforts to develop a plastics market for soybean oil came from ThomasKurth, a formulator who discovered that a polyol precursor could be formulatedfrom crude soybean oil, refined to a precise specification for urethane use andblended with additives to control the diisocyanate reactivity. He and a partnerfounded Urethane Soy Systems Co. in 1998 and introduced a commercial productcalled SoyOyl in 1999 at the Polyurethanes Expo in Orlando, FL.

A major collaborativeresearch project in 2000 to commercialize soy-based polyols on a broad levelstalled because the material had a rancid odor, poor compression set and poormechanical properties.

Aformulation chemist at Ford named Christine Perry made hundreds of differentformulations in an effort to solve the problems. After two years, she succeededand Ford became the world leader inimplementation of the technology. Ford is now expanding use of soy-basedmaterials in all automotive foam applications.

Cargillbuilt a $22-million bio-based polyols manufacturing plant in Chicago in 2008,and expanded production capabilities at a site in Brazil in 2007. Cargill alsoopened a 19,000-ft2 R&D site for polyols in Plymouth, MN.

Anothermajor player is Bayer, the company that first invented polyurethanes when itwas part of IG Farben in 1937. Bayer has several commercial applications in thefield, and is now seeking to take the technology one step further, tappingwaste carbon dioxide as a feedstock.

Researchersfrom Bayer MaterialScience and Bayer Technology Services are working with RWEPower AG, Germany's largest utility, and Aachen University on use of carbondioxide to produce polyols in what they call the "Dream Production" project. Akilogram-scale pilot plant is being built at Chempark Leverkusen.

A companycalled Biobased Technologies is building capacity to produce polyols frombiological feedstocks in Chang Zhou City, China.

Severalcompanies are using, or planning to use feedstocks other than soy oil becausethey can impart different mechanical properties and due to fears that soyprices could rise too high.

DowChemical, for example, also uses rapeseed oil as a feedstock to produce polyolsin plants in Texas and elsewhere.

Polyols can alsobe made from castor bean, Euphorbia lagascae, sunflower and linseed. Flexiblefoam made by Metzeler Schaum GmbH of Germany uses a polyol derived fromsunflower oil.

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