David Reed, UT EditorMidland, Michigan- The Dow Chemical Company reports that it has made significant progress towards developing consistent soy-based polyols for urethane formulations. Soy-based polyols can substitute for a considerable percentage of hydrocarbon-based polyols, providing customers with greater economic stability and significant environmental advantages, a 22 June statement from the firm asserts. David Babb, a scientist working on polyurethanes at Dow, presented the information at a recent United Soybean Board meeting held in Detroit, Michigan."The biggest challenge in working with natural oils is the variations of the fatty acid makeup in the oils. If fatty acids are not controlled, final urethane product performance is impacted, thereby impacting overall customer acceptance and satisfaction," stated Babb. "We've been able to successfully overcome these challenges by utilising a multi-step process that selectively modifies the natural oils," he claimed in the Dow statement.Babb noted that Dow is focusing initially on developing soy-based polyols for flexible polyurethane slabstock foam products, the largest market for polyols today. Dow says it has already achieved production success in the lab and at pilot-plant scale. Foam performance data from products made in the company's pilot plant indicate that key properties have been matched with formulations incorporating 35 percent soy monomer. This preliminary work also required no special processing steps, indicating that customers should not have to make any equipment or process modifications to work with the new soy-based polyol products, the Dow statement claimed.Producing polyols from natural oils, such as soy, is increasingly being viewed by the industry as a viable alternative to hydrocarbon-based feedstocks due to the favorable environmental advantages and economic stability of these raw materials. Soy is an annually renewable resource that is cost-competitive and has reduced impact on the environment, Dow explains. From plant growth to polyol production, soy polyols are expected to require about half the fossil fuels and feedstocks required by traditional polyols. In addition, the introduction of natural oils into the polyurethane supply chain can provide an opportunity for polyurethane suppliers and customers to reduce their dependence on natural gas and crude oil, whose highly volatile and increased costs continue to make it difficult for them to compete, the Dow statement added.Dow plans to start product sampling with select flexible slab customers in the US and Europe in the fourth quarter of 2005 and will continue at least through 2006. Once pre-commercial trials are successfully completed, the company will evaluate full commercial investment in this technology, the statement concluded.EDITOR"S NOTE: The August/September issue of Urethanes Technology is taking a close look at all the recent developments in this area, in view of the increasing interest in the topic."