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Soybean plastics uses greatly expanding

Ethanol claimed the limelight during the recent 2007 Commodity Classic.

But one of the stars of industrial uses of farm crops is soybeans. More specifically new uses for plastics made from soybean oil -- called soy polyol -- has experienced tremendous growth in the last year and is expected to greatly expand into the future, says Dr. Clay Williams of Omni Tech International.

Omni Tech provides research work for the United Soybean Board.

"The big news with soy polyol is its use in plastics to create such products as polyurethane foams and coatings," Williams told convention goers. "Currently soy polyol is a 4 billion pound per year market. That will certainly increase in the future."

In 2006 alone, 22 new soy polyol products were introduced, Williams announced. In the plastics field alone nine new products have come on the market. And the star of that show is Envirez which is a polyester resin created from soybeans used to create a wide range of products like hoods and covers for tractors made by Case IH, John Deere and New Holland.

Envirez was created by Ashland Chemical which received financial support from the soybean checkoff.

"The checkoff became the catalyst for soy polyol by providing the initial funding," says Todd Allen, a West Memphis, Arkansas, farmer and committee chairperson for the United Soybean Board. "This funding allows corporate partners to invest in projects they otherwise might not have been able to justify funding."

In the case of Ashland Chemical, that funding resulted in no less than five new soybean-plastics products bearing the Envirez name this past year.

"What is driving the creation of these and a wide range of other soy polyol products? That would be the high price of crude oil," Williams explains. "The cost of oil feed stocks has more than doubled in recent years. This has driven up the cost of petroleum-based products which, in turn, is inspiring manufacturers to look for an alternatives such as soy polyol."

Another example of this is Ford Motor Company which, working with the soybean checkoff the past three years. Ford announced a breakthrough in soybean-based polyurethane foams at the Commodity Classic. These foams is the primary substance that makes up a vehicle's seat cushions, seat backs, armrests and head restraints.

Ethanol claimed the limelight during the recent 2007 Commodity Classic.

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