As corporate sustainability efforts continue to rise – along with petrochemical prices – manufacturers are increasingly searching for alternative polyurethane feedstock.
To fill the need, the United Soybean Board (USB) supports research, testing and development of products containing soy-based polyols. Soybean polyols offer equal or better performance than petrochemical feedstock. Equally important, soy-based polyols have a carbon benefit over petroleum-based polyols, according to a Life Cycle Impact Analysis conducted by Omni Tech International for USB and peer reviewed.
The study confirms 5½ pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents are removed or prevented from entering the atmosphere for every pound of soy-based polyol that replaces a pound of petroleum-based polyol in a product.
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The same study shows it takes less fossil fuel to produce a pound of soy-based polyol than a pound of petroleum-based polyol. The manufacturing process takes less energy, too. It also emits less carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Manufacturers have already been using soy-based feedstock in products ranging from carpet backing and spray-foam insulation to automotive foam seating, bedding and furniture cushioning.
Those results confirm the now broadly accepted finding that it takes less energy to manufacture organic chemicals using renewable plant based carbon from biomass than using fossil carbon from oil and gas. This is measured by the so-called enthalpy (*) of the transformation process at stake, as illustrated by the following scheme.
By and large, using biomass to produce chemicals (via reduction) makes more sense as is requires less energy than using fossil carbon (via oxidation). Conversely it makes more sense to produce fuels (short chain alkanes) and combustible using fossil carbon than using plant based carbon.
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This simple but fundamental statement is a key indicator of how fossil carbon and biomass carbon will be used in priority for the production of downstream chemical products.
(*)Definition (Source Wikipedia and SparkNotes) : “Enthalpy is a state function. The unit of measurement for enthalpy in the International System of Units (SI) is the Joule. The enthalpy is the preferred expression of system energy changes in many chemical, biological, and physical measurements, because it simplifies certain descriptions of energy transfer. Enthalpy change accounts for energy transferred to the environment at constant pressure through expansion or heating. Chemical changes result in either the release or the absorption of heat, and this change in heat in the system is measured in terms of the system’s enthalpy (H). A reaction in which there is a net absorption of heat energy is called an endothermic reaction (NFTE e.g. oxidation or reduction), and, in this type of reaction, energy is a reactant, and the change in enthalpy of the system, DH, has a positive value. A reaction in which there is a net production of heat by the system is called an exothermic reaction (NFTE e.g. combustion). In this type of reaction, energy is a product, and the change in enthalpy of the system, DH, has a negative value. “
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