Styrofoam alternative wins soybean innovation competition
A team of students from Purdue University has won the $20,000 grand prize in this year’s Student Soybean Innovation Competition, held by the Indiana Soybean Alliance.
The team has developed a biodegradable, compostable and non-toxic, soy-based foam called StyroSoy, which serves as an environmentally-friendly alternative to polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam.
The competition showcases Purdue students developing novel applications for soybeans that satisfy a market need. The ISA said StyroSoy can be used to make density packing materials, cushions, foam and other products, particularly used in shipping applications.
The winning team is comprised of Purdue PhD students Louis Edwards Caceres-Martinez and Valeria Tellez Gallego, as well as sophomores Alyssa Choi and Amy Tang.
The team says polystyrene currently encompasses 30% of U.S. landfills and does not decompose. StyroSoy, they posit, could significantly reduce the final disposal of polystyrene.
“StyroSoy not only offers equivalent commercial performance versatility to polystyrene, but also, economic competitiveness with respect to other petroleum-based and alternative packaging products,” Choi said. “Replacing petroleum-based products is critical in the packaging industry given the unsustainability and catastrophic impacts on environment and human health associated with the use of polystyrene.”
The ISA said polystyrene is associated with the formation of microplastics and nanoplastics, and includes harmful materials such as benzene and styrene, which are associated with the development of leukemia.
“Our product offers a non-toxic alternative as it replaces materials that include benzene and styrene, carcinogenic compounds that threaten human lives,” Choi said.
StyroSoy also won the $500 People’s Choice Award as voted on by the more than 200 attendees of the competition. The ISA said 12 teams totaling 34 students and 24 faculty advisors finished the competition.
“The goal of the competition is to showcase the versatility of soybeans while tackling a need in agriculture or the general public,” said Denise Scarborough, chair of ISA’s Sustainability and Value Creation Committee. “The results of this event expand opportunities and markets for all Indiana soybean growers. The students who came up with StyroSoy created a safe and necessary product that we think many businesses will use.”
The $10,000 second place prize went to SoySafe, a soy-based replacement for construction-quality drywall that its creators say is fire resistant, more environmentally friendly than gypsum-based drywall, and cheaper and easier to produce that commonly-used drywall products.
The $5,000 third prize went to the creators of SOYscara, a mascara that is composed of mainly soy materials. SOYscara is made from 99% natural, organic ingredients.