Soy Based Foam: Media Propaganda or Green Revolution?

Tell Jack in the Beanstalk not to trade his cow; these ‘magic’ beans aren’t ready yet.

Soybean usage now extends beyond food products and into the realm of construction. Many of us are asking whether the new Soy based foam roofing and insulation products are just hype or whether they truly can make a substantial environmental impact. I think everyone agrees that the Soy based foam is a move in the right direction, but just how far DID we move in that direction? Before we jump into the subject of comparing sprayed polyurethane foam to sprayed soy based foam we will first look at soy foam based memory mattresses.

The Soybean is a species of legume native to East Asia. The plant is classed as an oilseed rather than a pulse. It is an annual plant that has been used in China for 5,000 years to primarily add nitrogen into the soil as part of crop rotation. Could the ancient Chinese soybean be the future of foam roofing and insulation materials?

Soy beans

Soybean Based Memory Foam Mattresses

If you visit your local mattress store, chances are you’ll see lots of green eco-friendly labels on soy based foam products. What many of these labels wont tell you is that often these ‘green’ memory foam mattresses are only using 5% Soy in their foam. Unfortunately, 5% Soybean oil really will not make a substantial environmental impact. Not all the memory foam mattresses are hype though, there is one Italian manufacturer that is truly making a difference. Magniflex has created a truly eco friendly memory foam mattress with a whopping 50% eco-friendly castor oil and aloe-vera blend. Hopefully, regulators will step in and stop allowing manufacturers using less than 30% Soy or comparable ‘green’ blends from using ‘eco-friendly’ labels. Consumers will remain confused until manufacturers are required to label things more clearly.

Soybean Oil Based Sprayed Foam Roofing and Insulation

The Soybean oil foam fad has also extended into the spray foam roofing and insulation industries as well. I honestly got excited when I heard about Soy based foam due to the positive environmental impact such a product could have. Of course, my next question was, just what percent Soy is in these new foam products? I looked at many web pages, and I noticed that the perfect Soybean oil used is conspicuously missing. Based on a little research, it appears a manufacturer called “BioBased Insulation” is the front-runner on soy based foam, so I decided to investigate their spec sheets and see for myself just how environmentally friendly their Soy based foam is.

What Percent Soy is Soy Based Foam?

This image is a screen-shot from this page:

soy foam content

A Look at the Official BioBased Insulation Soy Foam Spec Sheet

The image above is straight from the BioBased Insulation official spec sheet. As you can see, the polyol blend is 30% of the weight and Hyrodxylated Soybean Oil is also 30% of the weight. Before we go further, its important to note that foam is divided into two components, generically called “Component A” and “Component B”. Foam is pumped through a heated hose as two separate components, then combined at the last moment by a spray-gun as it is applied to a substrate (such as a roof, or wall). The heated foam rises almost instantly and hardens enough to allow foot traffic within about one minute. It’s important to note that Components A and B are always mixed at a 1:1 or 50:50 ratio.

Soy Based Foam Uses the Same Component A

For Soy based Foam, there’s no substantial changes to Component A, the ‘agitator’ which causes a reaction in Component B which results in millions of tiny closed cells. The air trapped in these cells give foam its exceptional insulation qualities and makes it an inherently waterproof product as well (which make it ideal for both roofing and insulation applications). In other words, only component B was substantially changed with Soy foam, so the numbers in the image above combined, only represent about 50% of the resulting foam product.

More About Component A & B Mixture Ratios

On the image you may observe that “Hyrodxylated Soybean Oil” is 30% of component B, and in fact, just 15% of the completed foam blend (component A will dilute the mixture to a 50/50 ratio). You may also observe that 15% of the final mixture will be polyol blend. So, this new ‘soy based’ foam is not completely soybean oil based foam, it still has substantial levels of polyols.

Yes, Soybeans are Greener Than Plastics

Although 15% Soybean Oil is more environmentally friendly that the 100% polyurethane foam mixtures it may be hard to argue you’re making a dramatic environmental impact. Polyurethane foam is already a green product in many respects, so touting the use of Soy based foam is tantamount to claiming the status as the ‘greenest of the green’. The real question perhaps is whether or not being just a little bit more green is worth digging a bit deeper into your pocketbook. Aside from this as well, the soy based foams are newer, and somewhat untested in contrast to polyurethane foam which has been around for over 50 years. Even though the soy based foam meets present standards there’s always that small chance this new product may have a weakness which will only be exposed after many years of use.

Heavy on Hype, Light on Substance

Overall, it is wonderful that Soy based (using the word ‘based’ loosely) foam is now a reality, and that there are new ways we can all be just a little bit more green. For some of us though, a more expensive, unproven product may not be a risk we are willing to take. Once Soy foams are available which have 30% to 50% Soybean Oil content, we may need to revisit this subject. For now, with just 15% Soy in the foam, and 85% of the product remaining the same, the latest developments may be just a bit more hype than substance.

9 thoughts on “Soy Based Foam: Media Propaganda or Green Revolution?”

  1. I really think Soybean Oil Foam looks really promising. I agree that maybe the jury is still out as to whether this product will truly make a dramatic environmental impact. For now, with 15 percent soybean oil, it may be a little hard to say that this is a must have product. However, in the future, perhaps Soybean Oil based foam will become the new standard. In other words, if they could make this product the same or less expense than traditional polyurethane foam, and perhaps increase the soy content even further, I think this will then be a home run. For now I understand why some contractors have been reluctant to start using this new product.

  2. Even if you’re just using 15% less plastics based product, at least your’e doing something to preserve nature. I am glad to see some manufacturers and contractors in the plastics industries get more interested in saving the environment. Just liek this article says though, I hope this is not just a gimmick, but something real–

  3. Off-Gassing is a very broad question. There are two ways you can look at this. 1- all materials off-gas, the amount of off-gassing and what is off-gassed is simply based on the materials. so if soy foam is %15 soy, its likely a fair portion of offgassing will just be soy particles. it’s true there are more scientific answers– but these require specific questions. In that case, you can: 2- Check the MSDS (material safety data sheets) for the manufacturer in question. More specific answers are really beyond the scope of this article.

  4. Problem with Soybeans is that they are are product of an unsustainable monoculture especially characterised by the use of genetically engineered production systems with many long term ecological costs and risks. In the modern context, the promotion of Soy products in naeve greenwashing.
    Traditionally Soybeans were grown as a poly culture( a crop rotation) and mechanically weeded (no shortage of labor in today’s world !)

  5. Amazing! Its truly remarkable piece of writing, I have
    got much clear idea regarding from this piece of

  6. how can soy be 30% while the total % of component B is greater than 100%? On the chart it says <30%. According to Ontario Foam System, they state that soy foam cannot contain more than 5% soy due to instability in foam mixture ). Therefore, the <30% should be =<5%, making soy foam less than close to perfect. I think more studies should be done in order to make this a firm accusation that soy foam is just a load of the mix.

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