Some 22-thousand Nebraskans raise soybeans and researchers are finding new ways to use soy oil to create automotive parts. Cynthia Flanigan, a researcher at Ford, says she’s focused on using soybean oil in the place of petroleum-based oil for rubber.
Flanigan says they’re evaluating the use of rubber with soy oil in a variety of different interior and exterior parts, including door seals, cupholders, floor mats, radiator deflector shield, or an air deflector shield. Flanigan says a mix that uses one-third soy oil is showing the most promise.
She says the project is in the advanced stages and they are testing its durability to ensure the performance, cost and long-term durability all meet the customer expectations. Flanigan says the soy oil product has a lot of advantages over the standard petroleum-based rubber.
Flanigan says the cross-linking of the soy oil with the petroleum makes it not as recyclable as corn-based plastics, but she says it has the advantage of being less energy intensive to make the soil oil, and overall there’s a reduction of carbon emissions with the soy oil. She says those benefits are on top of using less of the petroleum-based oil.
They’ve also been able to use other portions of the soybean. Flanigan says they found some advantages of using soy meal filler in the place of some of the carbon black and polymer normally used in the rubber, which gave them a slight weight improvement. Flanigan says the soy rubber could eventually become common in vehicles.
Ford already uses soy foam in the seats of 23 different vehicles. Nebraska is America’s fifth-largest soybean producer, with some 4.3-million acres in production.