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  • Brandon Day

Innovation Unlocks Potential


The Soy Innovation Challenge supports entrepreneurs as they uncover and bring new potential for soy to market.

 

Innovation is the lifeblood of the renewable energy industry. Biobased diesel resulted from fostering and encouraging innovation, a process that must continue.

 

U.S. soybean farmers supported early innovation in the biobased diesel industry. Soybean oil now comprises more than 50 percent of the feedstocks used for biodiesel production, and it has grown to more than 25 percent of the feedstocks used for renewable diesel, according to University of Illinois analysis. As the biobased diesel industry grows, that demand is expected to increase.

 

U.S. Soy is rising to the challenge of meeting that potential demand, reporting plans for increased crush capacity. In 2023, three soybean-crush plants expanded capacity and a new plant opened. Plans are in progress for 12 new soybean-crushing plants and five expansions to be operating by 2026.

 

The Soy Innovation Challenge 2023 was launched to address that growing demand for soybean oil for diesel by encouraging new and novel markets for the soybean meal also produced from crushing, as well as whole soybeans and other soy components. The Yield Lab Institute with the United Soybean Board, which wholly funded the challenge, and AWS Startups aimed to advance creative solutions that use U.S. soy to address real-world challenges.

 

The challenge invited entrepreneurs from around the world to share their ideas and technologies. Innovation can come from anywhere and anyone, and the 69 applicants came from five continents. They are working on soy-based solutions for everything from food to adhesives and cosmetics to petrochemicals. The applicants included six from the biofuels and energy sector.

 

From this group, a diverse panel of experts vetted applications. These judges selected four finalists to participate in a venture-accelerator program and compete for cash investments from U.S. soybean farmers provided through the soy checkoff.

 

“I know soy has many uses, but I learned about many innovative concepts I hadn’t considered as I reviewed each application,” said Shannon Tignor Ellis, a farmer from Champlain, Virginia, and a USB director who served as a judge to represent the investors. “It was eye-opening to see what ideas and applications exist. The finalists represent all the applicants well.”

 

Sustainable Solutions

The Soy Innovation Challenge 2023 finalists will drive use of soy forward as the biobased fuel industry grows, with similar themes of improving sustainability and reducing dependence on petroleum.

Soy-based dairy feed from Clean Label Solution improves milk production and eliminates the need for palm oil, a less sustainable feed ingredient. (Photo: Clean Label Solution)

An innovative fermentation process from Clean Label Solution delivers high-value feed for beef and dairy cattle from soybeans and soybean meal. Soybeans provide foundational nutrients, but cattle couldn’t eat much because the oil was toxic to them. The proprietary process allows more soy to be used in this feed, replacing palm oil, a less sustainable ingredient.

 

In trials with farmers, these soy-based products allow cattle to digest the 30 percent of soy protein that otherwise passes through the animal without being used. This boosts milk and meat production while curbing methane emissions. That improved efficiency saves farmers about 30 cents per head per day. This leads the way toward a more sustainable, efficient future for livestock agriculture.

Cellyfill™ cushions, which can be made from soybean hulls and biobased materials, provide performance equal to or better than petroleum-based polyfoam. (Photo: Eden Concept Fill)

In a much different industry, Eden Concept Fill has developed a fully sustainable cushion alternative to polyurethane foam, which is the petroleum-based industry standard for soft fill in furniture, mattresses, seats in cars and planes, and much more. Its product, Cellyfill™, is a near 100 percent cellulose-based material that can be made from soy hulls, the thin shell on soybeans often removed as waste during crushing.

 

Cellyfill™ provides biobased cushion fill with performance equal to or better than synthetic polyfoam. It offers manufacturers and consumers a lower cost, more environmentally friendly option for soft seating and mattresses. Global industry estimates show that using an alternative like Cellyfill™ in place of synthetic polyfoam could eliminate 1.1 gigatons of carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050, representing 42 percent of the United Nations’ targets.

Made from soy protein, OmegaSkin™ by NeuEsse creates a human-skin substitute using a patented spinner. (Photo: NeuEsse)

In the medical-technology field, NeuEsse is harnessing the healing power of soy by creating a human-skin substitute, OmegaSkin™, made from soy protein. This medical solution helps cover and heal serious wounds and burns with minimal scarring. The soy protein in OmegaSkin™ becomes a scaffold for the body to regrow its own skin over a wound or burn, and it is much more cost-efficient than current treatments like skin grafting, skin substitutes or advanced cellular therapies.

 

Studies show OmegaSkin™ gradually degrades and integrates into wounds. It supports the body’s natural wound closure, allowing healing to the full thickness of the skin, while generating functioning hair follicles and sweat glands. Those wounds heal with the person’s natural pigmentation and skin color, an advantage compared to current options.

Renewable Green Composites is making plastics and polymer building blocks from soybean meal and its constituents. Soybean meal-based plastic pellets, shown at the bottom, can be used to make unfilled or fiber-reinforced plastic articles, like these other unformed materials. (Photo: Renewable Green Composites)

Renewable Green Composites is making plastics and polymer building blocks from soybean meal and its constituents to improve the sustainability of some plastics. The company aims to become a plastics supply house that makes soy-based plastic beads and plastic additives that customers can melt and mold into a variety of more sustainable plastics. While Henry Ford introduced this concept in his first cars, modern technology and techniques are advancing it.

 

Some plastics should be compostable, and using soy protein for much of the material can make that possible. Soy-based plastics have potential for use in nondurable outdoor applications like golf tees, Airsoft BBs, string weed-trimmer line, lawn toys and more, as well as impact-resistant packaging and rigid flame-retardant uses.

 

“Regardless of the U.S. Soy investment each finalist receives, I hope participation in the Soy Innovation Challenge helps keep all these companies moving forward,” Ellis says. “When they win in the market, we all will win.”

 

New markets for soybeans and soybean meal will complement the demand for soybean oil for biobased diesel. At the same time, we will all have access to more sustainable options for fuel, cushions and plastics; a natural, sustainable skin substitute; and a more sustainable way to produce dairy and beef products.

 

To learn more, visit thesoychallengelive.com, and watch for information from the Soy Innovation Challenge. It can be a complementary platform to advance the next generation of innovations for renewable energy.





Author: Brandon Day

Chief Operating Officer

The Yield Lab Institute

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