Soybeans are about 18 percent oil and 38 percent protein, and that protein content makes the humble bean a major ingredient in livestock feed and products for human consumption like soy milk, soy flour, soy protein, tofu and too many retail food products to mention.
But soybeans are also used in a wide range of non-food, industrial products like biocomposites used in building materials made from recycled newspaper. Soybeans often replace products traditionally made from wood like furniture, flooring, and countertops.
Particleboard, laminated plywood and finger-jointed lumber are made with soy-based wood adhesives.
Incredibly versatile, soybeans are also utilized to make biodiesel fuel for diesel engines through a process known as transesterification, which removes the glycerine from soybean oil to leave soy biodiesel. This soy biodiesel burns cleaner than petroleum-based diesel oil, reduces particulate emissions, and is a non-toxic, renewable and environmentally friendly fuel.
And if that's not enough, there are now soy-based foams in development for use in coolers, refrigerators, automotive interiors and footwear. As far back as 2007, Ford Mustangs rolled off the production line with soy foam packed in their seats.
Now a team of Purdue University students have developed a soybean-based material which can be used for 3D printing.
Called Filasoy, it's a low-energy, low-temperature, renewable and recyclable filament created with a mixture of soy, tapioca root, corn starch, and sugar cane.
One of the student team members responsible for creating the product, Carmen Valverde-Paniagua, said she and her team were looking for a way 3D printers could function without using plastics.
"This is a much better alternative to ABS – as well as some other plastics – which are petroleum derived," she said. "They are toxic as they don't derive from renewable resources. I think the new wave, what's really going to push the industry forward, is renewable materials. Different materials that people can tinker with, so that's really the market that we're trying to get into."
The work to develop Filasoy, included a team made up of Paniagua, a senior in mechanical engineering, Nicole Raley Devlin, a doctoral student in chemical engineering and Yanssen Tandy, a senior student in chemical engineering. The work also won a $20,000 prize sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance which calls on teams of Purdue students to create innovative products from soybeans.
"We looked at not only the winning products, but all the 15 entrants and evaluated them for commercial viability," said Melanie Batalis, the Director of New Uses at the Indiana Soybean Alliance. "We'll go through patent searches, we'll do manufacturing analysis, and hopefully we'll get some of these products on the market."