Soy-based rubber mulch wins Student Soybean Innovation Competition

A soy-based rubber mulch and playground surface took home the top prize for the 2022 Student Soybean Innovation Competition.

Team Smulch members Libby Plassard, a freshman majoring in business management and finance; Ethan Miller, a freshman studying biochemistry; and Zuhal Cakir, a student working on a Ph.D. in chemical engineering took home $20,000 during the award ceremony Wednesday at the Purdue University Memorial Union.

Plassard tells Brownfield about their product.

“We wanted to fix a real-world problem. In research we saw current rubber mulch has been linked to carcinogens and cancer and so we thought there was a way to make it better and so that’s what we did,” she says. “We started with the soy-based rubber mulch and then we came into playground surfacing through some trial and error in the lab. We thought two products were better than one and both of them fulfill a need.”

Audio: Team Smulch

The competition is sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance and Purdue University. To participate, students must develop novel applications for soybeans that satisfy a market need.

Plassard says she learned about the versatility of soybeans during the competition.  

“I didn’t know all that soy could do before this competition,” she says. “…It’s worth learning about because it’s important and it’s a big part of our state and what we do.”

Denise Scarborough, a farmer from Lacrosse, Indiana, is the chair of Indiana Soybean Alliance’s Sustainability and Value Creation Committee.

“This competition has allowed students to create products and build into the future that have turned into long-term products we use everyday in our lives. It really opens a window of endless opportunities and different ways for us to continue finding new uses for soybeans,” she says.

Audio: Denise Scarborough

ISA continues to host and invest in the competition each year.

“Being farmers and growing soybeans, one of our number one goals is moving the pile and finding ways we can continue to use soybeans outside of food and different products,” she says. “It can also help make our crops more valuable and have more demand for them.”

This year, 10 teams composed of nearly 30 Purdue University students and 20 faculty advisors, finished the competition. Following the contest, ISA works to develop the products, evaluate their long-term feasibility and commercial viability.

Earning second place this year, and a $10,000 prize, is Team Brilliant Bean, which developed a soy-based ink for markers that can be used on dry-erase boards. The team consists Rob Bastain, an engineering major; Sarah Juffer, an animal science major; Charles Sebright, an engineering major; and Josh Stephenson, a biochemistry major.

Sarah Juffer tells Brownfield “our product is a dry-erase ink that we decided to market as a refillable ink for pre-existing companies,” she says. “It has a number of pros to it including being child safe, odorless, it comes off of white boards cleaner than previously existing inks, and is more environmentally friendly.”

Audio: Team Brilliant Bean

Finishing third, and earning a $5,000 prize, is Team Silm, which created a 100 percent biodegradable agricultural mulch film. Team Silm consists of Loan Cao, an environmental and natural resource engineering major; Young Choi, a machine systems engineering major; and Sophie Kwon, a mechanical engineering major.

Young Choi describes their product.

“We made agricultural mulch films that are 100 percent biodegradable and 99.5 percent soybean-based,” he says. “While it degrades it will apply nutrients into the soil instead of harming the soil like normal plastic films do currently.”

Audio: Team Silm

This contest also includes a People’s Choice award of $500, which is determined by votes of attendees at the awards ceremony. Team Drip Drop won the award for making a soy-based coffee filter. The four members of Team Drip Drop include Riley Garrison, a freshman studying finance; Nikki Rytczak, a sophomore majoring in multidisciplinary engineering; Hariharan Thirumalai, a sophomore agronomy student; and Miriam Walker, a sophomore studying biological engineering.

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