Close up of edamame
July 25, 2012

Will Cars Be Made Almost Entirely Of Soybeans Next?

The humble soybean continues to amaze after all these years. You can eat some varieties, although they are a bit bland eaten alone, but it has been used for years as tofu, enjoyed as soy milk, it is a basis for many meat free dishes, additive in packaged foods, well, let’s just say all kinds of foods.

Other varieties of soy make a clean additive for bio-diesel fuel, although the cost per gallon is not conducive to mass production of it as a pure fuel source, it is quite viable as an additive in modest amounts and is used on small farms to operate machinery.

The little-bean-that-could has even found its way into materials used in the making of car parts created out of soy oil-based products. Ford Motor Company has had seats and plastic interior bits made from soy for the last few years, writes James Healey for USA Today.

Ford and the soybean have an even longer history together. Henry Ford himself developed a prototype car, shown to the public in 1941 with body panels made entirely of soy-based plastic. The “Soybean Car” had a tubular steel frame with 14 plastic panels attached to it.

The car weighed 2,000 lbs., one-third the mass of a similar steel car. Although the exact ingredients of the plastic panels are unknown because no record of the formula exists today. One article claims that they were made from a chemical formula that, among many other ingredients, included soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie (a nettle-like fibrous plant used for fabrics).

Unfortunately, the car came about just as America was to join the second world war and all production and development on civilian vehicles came to a halt for the duration of the conflict. By the end of the war the idea of a plastic car had fallen through the cracks due to energy being directed toward war recovery efforts.

So where does that leave us today? Researchers at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has announced this week a plan to reduce the amount of petroleum-based oil used in tires, while at the same time, extending tread life, reports By James R. Healey for USA Today.

The company’s Innovation Center here have found in their tests that using soybean oil in tires can potentially increase tread life by 10 percent and reduce the tiremaker’s use of petroleum-based oil by up to seven million gallons each year.

Rubber compounds, researchers found, made with soybean oil blend much easier with the silica used in building tires, improving plant efficiency, reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Goodyear is committed to caring for the environment and communities, and use of soybean oil is proving to be another way to accomplish this goal,” said Jean-Claude Kihn, Goodyear’s chief technical officer. “Consumers benefit through improved tread life, Goodyear gains with increased efficiency and energy savings and we all win whenever there is a positive impact on the environment.”

The ongoing development of soybean oil is just one of the initiatives the tire company is currently undertaking to increase its use of renewable raw materials. Goodyear and DuPont Industrial Biosciences continue to work together to develop BioIsoprene, a revolutionary bio-based alternative for petroleum-derived isoprene.

BioIsoprene can be used for the production of rubber, both natural and synthetic along with other elastomers. BioIsoprene will help further reduce the tire and rubber industry’s dependence on petroleum-derived products.

So in the not-too-distant future, we may well hop into our soy car made of soy body panels, hit the gas, err, soy diesel throttle, burn some rubber, err, soy tires and drive down the street for some take-out Chinese, with an extra order of soy sauce.

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