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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Using Soy Flour in Engineered Wood Products Grows Demand

Photo: Brian Via

By Barb Baylor Anderson

Forest product manufacturing is the second largest industry in Alabama. To manufacture wood panels in the U.S. requires about 4.6 million metric tons of resin.

And while soy is already used in some engineered wood processes, such as the soy-based resin sourced to manufacture decorative veneer, researchers say substituting soy flour for 15 percent of the current resin market would expand soybean use by 37 million bushels.

“It is important to find value-added opportunities for soybean farmers to make additional revenue. By cross pollinating the forest product and agriculture industries, we can create new supply chains and revenue for farmers while providing cost savings for forest product manufacturers,” says Brian Via, director, Auburn University Forest Products Development Center and principle investigator for the soybean checkoff funded project.

Annie Dee agrees. The Aliceville, Alabama, soybean farmer says expanding new soybean uses is of great value. “Soybeans are an important part of livestock, poultry, swine and aquaculture diets. New uses for soybeans, beyond being used as a feed ingredient, will increase soybean demand and raise the value of the product. When we can pursue green and renewable products for soy use, we are making soybean farmers more sustainable. This will help soybean farmers improve their profitability as well as improve the public perception of farming,” she says.

Over the past four years, Via and his team have developed a soy flour resin and evaluated its performance with oriented strand board (OSB) and medium density fiberboard (MDF).

“We were able to demonstrate that soy flour improves the performance of panels (OSB, MDF and particleboard) at a lower cost. Several industrial scale pilots for OSB were run and a full-scale trial is planned for MDF. If successful, the results from the full-scale trial will be directly implemented at an already-identified commercial mill,” says Via.

Soy flour is especially beneficial for particleboard because conventional formaldehyde-free resin (including the standard MDI or methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) has low tack. Particle mats tend to crumble and fall apart while being conveyed to the press. Via notes partial substitution of soy flour in MDI provides the necessary tack when applied in the face layer of particleboard.

“Our work to date has involved hot-pressed panel products. There is also a demand for cold-pressing technology,” says Via. “We were approached by Yellawood, who has an interest in using soy-based resins for this application. We have begun the work to understand soy-MDI interactions and have found that variables such as moisture content and temperature can lead to differences in adhesion. We continue to complete the particleboard application in industrial-scale work with a commercial mill and the soy-based cold resin for Yellawood products.”

Via says the Forest Products Development Center at Auburn is well equipped with presses and testing equipment for advancing the soy-based work in the future.

“We just received approval for a second patent that will lock in an array of wood composite applications like particleboard, MDF, OSB and other engineered wood composites. We are also looking for non-wood composite applications where soy can be substituted,” he says.