Chemical Engineering

Novel uses for soybeans

By Katie Webb, CBB BiographerC.Moresoli
July 2, 2013

In Ontario, we produce a massive amount of soy. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Ontario farmers planted an estimated two and a half million acres of soybeans in 2013. This means that in Ontario, this year, we have planted more soy than corn, and more soy than rye, oats, and barley combined. Large scale uses of this soy include human and animal consumption, and the production of oil. With such a large quantity of soy produced every year in Ontario, innovations in its uses and subsequent market expansion are extremely welcome. Christine Moresoli, Center for Bioengineering and Biotechnology member and professor at the University of Waterloo, is planning such novel for future uses for soy.

Soy is an excellent source of good quality protein; one that Moresoli is endeavouring to use in the creation of vitamins. Moresoli, in partnership with the Government of Canada, is refining whole soy proteins into a supplement that provides both protein and protein-based antioxidants (as compared with plant-based antioxidants). To do so, Moresoli uses enzymes to break down soy to extract the proteins and antioxidants, which she then dries and makes into vitamins that provide health enhancing benefits to humans. Such a supplement provides antioxidants that are available only from protein sources and protein derived from a plant source, making them a vegetarian and vegan friendly manner in which to boost intake of proteins.           

Moresoli is also expanding the uses of soy beyond the more traditional consumables. Using the waste that is the by-product of the production of soy oil, Moresoli is creating a plant-based plastic for use in car interiors. This soy plastic is more bio-friendly and lighter than traditional plastics and is created from renewable resources (unlike traditional plastics that are created from non-renewable sources). While this soy plastic is not yet perfected (the roasting required to create the plastic produces a roasting odour that must be masked) there are strong hopes that it can be used for car parts such as seat casings or door panels, that are not required to withstand high impacts.

Moresoli’s novel uses of soy allows for soy farmers to expand into new markets. These two different uses of soy have very different market considerations. While the soy-based nature of the proteins Moresoli is using to create health supplements means that a greater part of the population can include them in their diet, exportation of such supplements is limited domestically, as most Ontario soy is genetically modified, and thus cannot be exported into the European market. Conversely, soy-plastics are more likely to find a home in European market than the North American one, as a greater push towards bio-friendly products in Europe makes the use of soy-plastic a more desirable and marketable feature. Whether finding a market domestically or abroad, Moresoli’s unique uses of an abundant and natural resource provide environmentally friendly ways to supplement our diets and replace petroleum-based products.

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