August 22, 2012
TOP CROP: Soybean Biorefinery Coming To A Crop Near You
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
New technology revealed at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society indicates that soybeans are going to be churning up more than just soy sauce at your favorite Chinese restaurant.
A new approach similar to what is seen at oil refineries could be placing soybeans as second only to corn as the top food crop in the U.S.
Ramani Narayan, a Michigan State University professor, said at a press conference here in Philadelphia that they plan to use all of the components of soybean, helping to kickstart "a valuable industry."
Today, soybean oil is being used on a global scale, and is the world's most widely used edible oil, according to Narayan. The oil is used in foods, salad dressings, frozen foods, baked goods and other items.
However, Narayan said soybeans are more than just oil, but are a biomass that also consist of three parts: oil, meal, and hull.
The "meal" part of a soybean can be converted into foam insulation that looks like typical standard foam you can find inside a home.
The scientists used the "hull" and turned that part of the soybean into electro-rheological fluids to be used in reinforcing fillers in rubber - meaning your tires could have soy product in them one day.
"The biorefinery can utilize essentially every component of the soybean in the production of bio-based ingredients for high-value products," Narayan said. "It makes sense from a sustainability standpoint, in which we strive to reduce our dependence on petroleum as a feedstock. It also benefits the soybean farmers and raises the value of the local economy."
The current project is working with the U.S. Department of Defense in order to help out Navy ships. Due to their long outing at sea, these Navy ships deal with a lot of waste on board, and all the plastics used in the naval ships and cruise liners have to be brought back to shore.
Narayan said the project aims to take paper, apply it with a vegetable oil, instead of plastic, making it biodegradable. He said food waste can be thrown overboard, along with the vegetable oil coated paper, and can function as food for the marine life. He didn't specify if this was actually going to happen, but that it is a possibility through the biodegradability that soybeans provide.
The scientists are currently working with a company in Michigan that supports 2,500 farmers. With this technology being developed by Narayan and his colleagues, it could open up more industry for the soybean farmers in Michigan to apply their product in.
He said at the press conference redOrbit attended that "today, a farmer needs to add value to his crop."
In a year plagued with drought, farmers with puny soybeans will not have to worry because "it doesn't matter how well it´s grown or how full grown it is, we can just extract the contents and whatever is in place."
"The farmer benefits despite the seasonal impacts, gaining value for his efforts in the crop," Narayan said at the press conference. "Soybeans are nuggets of green gold that can be a treasure trove of ingredients for other products, and our new biorefinery provides a glimpse of that potential."