Scientists at Iowa State University are finding new uses for soybeans. The latest research is converting soy oil into a hard plastic that might be useful in dozens of industries.Chemistry professor Richard Larock says the most promising unique properties in the soy-based plastic, which petroleum-based plastics don’t have, are the ability to dampen sound and vibrations. It could be used in products like washing machines. Larock says the soy-based plastic also has something called “shape memory,” meaning it can be made in one form, heated and shaped into something else, then re-heated — and it’ll take its original form again. He says that property also has many potential uses. He says you could put a tack through a hole in the wall, heat it, and the back end would expand and hold it in the wall.That “shape memory” could also be used in plumbing to connect pipes and in dozens of other applications. Larock says another advantage to the soy-based plastic is its cost — as it’s about half the price of the alternative. The price of soybean oil is way down to 17 cents a pound, compared to the styrene in styrofoam that’s about 40 cents a pound.Larock says the research team is in contact with several major companies about the potential uses for the plastic, including John Deere, Maytag and DuPont.
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