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Research Highlights
Bio-resins with Soy Oil Could Create a New Product and Market for Soybeans

In Kasi “Muthu” Muthukumarappan’s lab at South Dakota State University, he and his research team are exploring the use of soy oil in the manufacture of bio-resins and polymers, reducing the need for fossil fuels in these products.

By Carol Brown

Scientists across the country are exploring how to use soybeans in various new ways. Soy oil is being used in rubber products, road surfacing materials, waxes and more.

Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Distinguished Professor Kasi Muthukumarappan is leading a project that uses soy oil to produce a bio-resin composite material that has commonly been made with petroleum. The South Dakota State University scientist, known on campus as Muthu, is producing a thermoset resin that could replace similar products made with crude oil. The multi-year project is funded by the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

“The project is in two phases: development or production of the bio-resin, which has been accomplished. The second phase is testing its functional characteristics such as strength and heat tolerance,” says Muthu. “We hope to create a product that has a high value for the soybean market by creating a new use for soy oil.”

He is using the crude soy oil to produce a thermoset polymer, which hardens to a permanent state. The thermoset is a different class of polymer than thermoplastic, which can be heated to soften or melt to reform into other products. There have been corn-based resins developed, but they are in the thermoplastic class, Muthu says, which can’t be used in the same products due to their properties.

There are other advantages to using soy oil in this product in addition to its performance in the thermoset material. Soy oil is less expensive than petroleum to use in the manufacture and there is little to no waste. It takes nearly the same amount of soy oil to produce the resins as those with petroleum.

“The mass balance of soy oil to bio-resin produced is 95 to 98 percent,” he says. “So the soy oil is not wasted in making of the plastics. Moreover, this can lessen the use of fossil fuel as soy is a renewable source, making the process green and sustainable.”

Thermoset resins are used in a myriad of products worldwide from industrial parts to household products to clothing and footwear. Replacing the petroleum-based materials in these products with soy creates another market for soy oil domestically and internationally.

“The global price for soy oil is estimated at around 65 cents per liter, but for epoxy resins the value is around $2.50 per liter,” says Muthu. “The market is waiting for us.”

As the soy-based bio-resins are developed and tested, Muthu and his team are looking to the next phase. They intend to try greener chemicals in the manufacturing process and as well as looking into its biodegradability properties. He sees great potential for this product and for those who grow the soybeans. 

This project was funded by the soybean checkoff. To find research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.