soybean_article-10032014

In a recent issue of the Association of Textile, Apparel & Materials Professionals (AATCC) Review, the journal took on the subject of soy in America. Although this crop is among the most popular to grow, the 82.1 million tons produced last year, according to the American Soybean Association, isn’t just being used in consumables, but it’s being spun into many unique kinds of emerging technology.

The bulk of the harvested soybeans are extracted for oil, and leave behind a high-protein soy fiber. Although some of this gets used to feed livestock, there is far more fiber and protein than there are animals to eat it, so what can be done with the leftovers?

As it turns out, even the leftovers of this popular bean have incredibly useful applications. AATCC Review spoke with several professionals in various industries who are developing interesting and innovative technology with soy, including the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering’s Alexander Yarin, who has multiple grants from the Nonwovens Institute to research applications of this popular bean.

Yarin and his team in the Multiscale MN Laboratory have developed a solution blowing process that uses a biopolymer blend that is pushed through nozzles at a very high speed—almost 300 meters per second. “As a result, the thickness of the fiber decreases dramatically and becomes almost like a fractal,” Yarin explained to the AATCC Review. “When you have eight nozzles like that, you can very rapidly produce a significant piece of material like 20cm by 20cm. This is much faster than (an electrospun) nonwoven.”

Yarin also told the AATCC Review that he and his team are currently in the process of patenting their process and working on commercializing it. They plan to focus on the wipes category, as well as the filter membranes, biomedical applications and geotextiles.

As for what’s next, Professor Yarin told AATCC that, “We have in mind some applications in agriculture for protecting plants—bringing green materials back to the field for protecting plants.”

This material was adapted from the original text of a featured article in the Association of Textile, Apparel & Materials Professionals, titled, “Cool Beans! Soy Fibers and their Impact on the Textile Industry.”

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