Plant oil-based foams in vogue

Yesterday, I attended Dow Chemical’s Investor Day event and got some interesting news on their bio-based chemicals portfolio including an update on their bio-polyethylene project in Brazil with Mitsui.

One of their announcements was their development of soybean oil-based acoustical foam formulation under the the tradename BETAFOAM Renue. Dow said it is currently in trials with a major North American OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and will be commercialized starting December this year.

The foam will be injected into vehicle cavities and rocker panels to reduce air and road noise. Dow said the foam replaces baffles traditionally used in these areas. The foam also has low density to reduce overall vehicle weight.

The nine-month project started from a grant given by the United Soybean Board (USB).

This announcement followed an earlier news from BASF, which said that it has partnered with automotive manufacturer Ford in developing castor oil-based foam product for Ford’s 2012 Focus instrument panel. The foam contains more than 10% renewable content (by weight I assume).

The castor oil-based foam is said to be more durable with a 36% better tensile strength and 5% improvement in tear strength while elongation is reduced by almost 12%. By the way, did I mention that I used to work in a quality assurance testing company focusing on textiles materials? I remembered measuring tensile strengths of fabrics and textiles over and over…

Another benefits of the foam, according to the companies, is that curing time is reduced by 43%, and product scraps are also reduced due to improved flow and processing characteristics.

Ford has been a very active proponent of biobased materials and chemicals for their automobiles. Ford has also partnered with USB on various soy-based technologies including using soy foam in seat cushions, seatbacks and vehicle headliners. The blog remembered a presentation from Ford last year talking about potential consumption of 844m bushels of soybean just by using soy foams on all interior foams of Ford cars.

Aside from Dow Chemical, some of the US companies active on soy oil-based foams include Urethane Soy Systems, Cargill, and BioBased Technologies. Canada-based OEM manufacturer Woodbridge Group has also been working with Cargill on soy foams for automotive headliner systems.

Research organization Battelle announced in June this year that it has licensed its soy polyols technology for making foams, coatings and adhesives to Emery Oleochemicals. Emery will exclusively produce the polyols for use in various flexible and rigid foams, polyurethane coatings and adhesives.

The blog remembered a 2008 report from OmniTech International (paid by USB) projecting the use of soy polyols in North America could increase to 620m pounds by 2013 if soy polyol economics remain competitive and performance properties compared to petro-based counterparts continue to improve.

The consulting firm estimated the 2009 polyol market for foams at 2.03bn pounds in North America and potential soy polyol substitution in foams at around 400m pounds.

[Photo credit: Cargill's BiOH soy foam]

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