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Corn+Soybean Digest

Soybeans Steer Toward Farm Equipment

What goes around comes around. In a few years, farmers might drive tractors made with soybean-based parts when they plant and harvest the crop.

Thanks to checkoff funding, a two-year University of Delaware research project developed a soybean oil-based resin that holds promise to expand the soybean marketplace into vast, new areas.

Being tested for use in fiberglass-reinforced composites (the resin represents about 30% of the composite), it might be used in parts for cars, medical equipment, boats and farm machinery, to name a few.

According to Gary Parker, a Kansas farmer and 1998 chairman of the United Soybean Board New Uses Committee, a prototype round hay baler door is undergoing testing.

"The door is drawing interest from major farm implement manufacturers," says Parker. "They already have many petroleum-based fiberglass parts on their equipment and like the idea of using a soybean oil-based product."

The soybean-based resins will bring competitive advantages to the table - the first of which is resource renewability. Presently, 900 million pounds of petroleum are used annually to feed the fiberglass-reinforced composite industry. It's projected that 80 million bushels of soybeans a year (at 10.7 lbs of oil per bushel) could supply that market.

Strengthwise, the soybean parts are equal to existing fiberglass parts made with petroleum, and costs are expected to be competitive. Fiberglass has been replacing traditional metal parts because they are lightweight and won't rust.

But don't run to your dealer looking for a soybean tractor yet. The concept has been less than a year in development, and the experimental parts still need testing for heat and cold stress, resistance to chemicals and repairability.

"So far, we've only discovered the chemistry," says Parker. "In the future, soybean farmers will be providing renewable resources and taking the lead developing uses for them. A lot of testing is still needed, but I think soybean farmers are going to change the world."

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