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U.S. soy board builds house of beans

Construction with soybean products moves closer to reality Imagine you are planning to build your dream home. Now, imagine that many of the building materials you'll need to build your architectural masterpiece are made, not of petroleum-based products, but of soybeans.

While building a house with soybean products may seem far-fetched, it's closer to reality than you may have guessed. The United Soybean Board (USB) and the Ohio Soybean Council recently unveiled "The House That Soy Built" at the Farm Science Review in London, Ohio.

The prototype home features finger-jointed lumber, plywood, concrete sealer, plastics, and carpet backing, all made from soybeans. "All of the components used in the building are made of soy," soybean farmer Gene Lewis told the crowd at the Sept.19 presentation of the soy house.

Lewis, who serves as the United Soybean Board's new uses committee chairman, says, "In today's times, houses aren't built like they used to be. They are built better." An example of this, he says, is the structure built with soybean-based components by the farmer-led, farmer-funded soybean groups.

"Soybean producers get the gold medal today for finding new uses for soybeans," says Roy Loudenslager, Marion, Ohio, soybean farmer and chairman of the Ohio Soybean Council. "The new soybean products used to build this house work for the consumer as well as the farmer."

Among the soy-based components included in the construction of the prototype house is a wood adhesive, which is used to make environmentally friendly finger-jointed lumber. The new adhesive, which is a combination of soy hydrolyzate and phenol-resorcinol-formaldehyde (PRF), is used in a process to bond finger-jointed wood to form longer, stronger and straighter lumber, USB says. The soy adhesive is applied to one surface of the joint and mated to the other joint with the PRF, a standard petroleum-based adhesive material.

Some of the components used in the soy house, including finger-jointing, have been in development for several years. Now, the same soy-based adhesive used to produce finger-jointed boards is also being used to produce oriented-strand board. A construction material made by gluing wood shavings together so the fibers interlock, oriented-strand board is a key factor in construction and a great growth area for soybeans, Lewis says.

USB says the soybean checkoff has invested years in the development and commercialization of the new adhesive, which is expected to help U.S. soybean farmers achieve the checkoff's marketing goal to increase domestic utilization and exports from 2.2 billion bushels a year to 3 billion bushels by 2005.

"Soy-based wood adhesives have the potential to utilize 23 million bushels of our soybeans a year by 2005," says Lewis. "Long-term, soy-based adhesives for use in finger-jointed lumber, as well as particleboard, fiberboard, plywood and other lumber products under development, have the potential to consume more than 150 million bushels of soybeans a year."

"We need to find a home for this year's projected near-record crop of 3 billion bushels of soybeans and construction is one new area with great potential for soybean products," Lewis says.

Clay Williams, a technical consultant to the United Soybean Board with Omni Tech International, says there are major changes coming in the industrial products industry as the industry searches for alternatives to petroleum-based compounds such as lubricants, glues, degreasers and cleaners. "This is an area of significant growth opportunity for soybean-based products," he says.

"There is a whole multitude of products that soy can be used in," he says. Other soybean components included in the construction of the house are a soy-based concrete sealer, carpet backing made from soybeans and soy candles. Williams estimates about 4 percent of soybean oil is currently used domestically for new use products. On the protein side, the figure is somewhat less than that, he says.

Loudenslager says, "There is also an opportunity for us to use 400 million bushels of soybeans in the plastic arena. When we can replace petroleum with a renewable source such as soybeans, that's a plus, plus."

Replacing petroleum in the production of plastics with less volatile organic compounds, such as soybeans, Lewis says, is to the consumer's advantage. "We need to get everybody thinking the same way environmentally for our sake and the generations to come," he says.

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