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Soybean contest winners develop alternative fiber
Associate Editor

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Soybean protein fibers that are a fairly recent discovery played a big part in a big win for three Purdue University students last week.

Nature Loft, an alternative fiber for down and synthetic padding in winter coats, boots and sleeping bags, took the top prize of $20,000 at the annual Soybean Product Innovation Competition. Team member John Grace said the soft fiber displayed at the team’s booth during the March 20 awards reception was made 100 percent from protein taken from the soybean’s hull, which hasn’t had too many uses until recently.

While the team think they can make this for less than $1 an ounce, he admitted they don’t know the manufacturing process yet to better estimate. The most difficult part of the invention process, Grace explained, was finding the right combination of team members to work on it – they went through a few, which delayed the project somewhat.

Ending up on the team with Grace, an Ohio senior majoring in strategic management at Purdue, were Solwoo Kim, a senior in marketing management, from South Korea, and Anshu Gupta, a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering, from India. Their advisors were faculty members Jim Lister and William T. Robinson.
The students’ process started off by “exploring just a ton of different ideas,” Grace said. Because it was such a cold winter, the best idea went back to insulated coats.

In addition to the Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA) grand prize, the Nature Loft team won the People’s Choice Award of $500, also sponsored by ISA. This was voted on by those attending last week’s reception. The three students were up against three other soy and three corn development teams (from the concurrent Corn Product competition) also at the reception.

Taking home $10,000 was the runner-up team that developed Double-Eyelid Glue, made from soybean protein. Americans may not be familiar with this kind of product, but Michelle Chan of Hong Kong, a senior majoring in health and disease, said it is a popular cosmetic in China.

She explained because many Chinese women have monolids (eyelids without a visible crease or dent), some find it difficult to apply eyeshadow. So, they apply a thin line of eyelid glue above the eye, under the top of the eye socket, and fold the skin minutely to give the appearance of a creased eyelid.

The glue is also good for people who have uneven eyelids, who want to look more symmetrical. A third use, Chan said, could be for older people who have drooping eyelids. The point of all these is to help the user boost their self-confidence, without the risk or expense of plastic surgery. (And yes, it can be used to apply fake eyelashes.)

While the glue has tested to last about a day if need be, Chan said it depends on the individual’s skin oil level. The most difficult part of development was figuring out how to make the adhesive, and she said the team still needs to experiment with adhesive control, as well as package design.

“All we need is time,” she said of getting it ready for marketing.
Her fellow team members are Qiting Wu majoring in biology and Yuqian Chen majoring in biochemistry, both from China, and Sook Yan Goh from Malaysia, also studying biochemistry. All are seniors. Their advisors were Clark Gedney and Qiang Liu.

Another team participating in the contest developed a water filtration system made of soybean charcoal.

It consisted of Steven Sanders in chemical engineering and Caleb Larsen studying management, both Indiana seniors; Scott Sanders, a junior in agribusiness management, also from Indiana; and Robert Lechner, a senior in selling and sales management from Illinois. Advisors were Mario Ferruzzi and Chris McEvoy.

Steven Sanders said the team spent about $70 on the entire project, explaining it’s a fairly simple process to grind soybeans into coarse chunks, then burn them into charcoal. “Soy is not a very good filtering material,” he said, explaining doing this increases its solubility.

The team began with 60-70 ideas and narrowed it down to this, which Sanders said doesn’t work quite as well as more expensive charcoal filters, but “it does a good job for what it is.” Each filter is very cheap, he said, and the idea is their manufacture and shipping to Third World countries could be sponsored by companies wanting to invest in charities.

Sanders said in the United States, disaster relief is an $11.2 billion industry annually and for low input costs, the target business customers for the filters can do good works. “There’s no point in making a product you’re not going to sell,” he said, adding the team did market and patent research.

Degerhan Deger, a junior in industrial engineering from Turkey, presented Shape Forming Ear-O-Gel at the reception. This is a putty-like substance made from soy flour. They are meant to replace plastic/foam ear plugs for swimming, noise-canceling or to help flight passengers adjust inner ear balance.

“They will be perfect fits for each individual,” Deger said, adding while regular plugs take a few minutes to adjust to ear shape, Ear-O-Gel takes only 10-15 seconds.

Too, he said regular plugs go further into the ear canal and may damage the eardrum, whereas his don’t have to be inserted that far. He came up with the idea from the noise-canceling headphones he uses while studying.

His advisors were Michael Ladisch and Beth Carroll. (The ISA did list another team student, Keun-Il-Kim, a junior in biological engineering from South Korea. Deger said the team originally began with four people.)