Saturday, November 22, 2008

A House Made of Soybeans?

With the realization that many non-renewable resources are running low, thinking “green” has taken the country by storm. And construction companies are doing just that, by building houses with materials composed of little "green" edamame. The soybean, or edamame in Japanese, is a popular food in a number of countries, including increasingly the United States, thanks to its health benefits (high protein, omega-3’s, etc). But this legume is also the perfect food for creating sustainable buildings, and in more way than one (United Soybean Board). (photo to left: rows of soybean plants. photo to right: an edamame pod. ).

The latest advance in green construction is soybean insulation. Unlike the traditional polyurethane types which are composed of over 90% petroleum or petroleum derivatives, soybean insulation is composed of renewable soybean oil, reducing the dependence on fossil fuels (Pandolfi, 2008). In addition, U.S. companies that install soybean insulation make it from soybeans grown right here in the country, eliminating the wasteful energy and materials usually spent on packaging and shipping for products made overseas (BioBased Insulation). Some companies that install this sustainable insulation even use water as their blowing agent, as opposed to harmful chemicals like CFCs or HCFCs which break down the ozone layer (Pandolfi, 2008). Since soybean insulation is more durable and resistant and creates an air-tight seal, unlike traditional insulation, it more efficiently keeps a building cool or warm (BioBased Insulation). This in turn reduces the amount of energy (and money!) spent on air-conditioning or heating.

Watch a video of soybean insulation being installed in a green building. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Heifer International" to the left. (BioBased Insulation).

Soybean insulation also has health benefits. It contains no urea or formaldehyde, the synthetically made compounds used to hold together normal insulation, which have been shown by the National Cancer Institute to be carcinogenic to humans (National Cancer Institute). This green insulation is resistant to mold growth and other allergens, and is not a source of food for any rodents or insects (BioBased Insulation).

But the use of an edamame in construction does not end there. One company, Emega Technologies, has created a soybean oil based polyol which can be used as a building plastic or as building blocks when used in conjunction with steel reinforcement. Not only is this a renewable form of plastic, unlike fossil fuel based types, but it reduces the amount of timber needed for a house’s frame (Duffy). (photo to right: soy ICF building. )

There are other innovations that are using soybeans in place of petroleum, which is the traditional material from which common building materials are made. This includes soybean polyol-based carpet backing - a trend spreading especially in hotel and condominium chains - soy adhesives in plywood and particleboard panels, soy-based resins in non-VOC paints and paint removers, countertops composed of recycled newspaper bound by soy-based resins, and soybean oil construction lubricants. All of these products are eco-friendly, as they are made of renewable resources and are biodegradable (Delta Farm Press, 2008 and Pandolfi, 2008). (photo to left: soy-based carpet, paint, plywood, countertop, and lubricant. ).

So the next time you eat an edamame, think of all the things that little bean can do!







  1. United Soybean Board.

  2. Pandolif, Keith. “So You Pumped Your Walls Full of Soybeans?.” This Old House Magazine. July/August 2008.

  3. BioBased Insulation. 2007-2008.

  4. National Cancer Institute.

  5. Duffy, Don. Emega Technologies. 2007.

  6. Delta Farm Press. “Soybeans Under the Carpet.” January 2008.
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