Soybean-Based Mulch and Playground Surface Wins Student Soybean Innovation Competition

by | Mar 31, 2022 | Indiana Agriculture News, News Feed

Photo provided by the Indiana Soybean Alliance.

A mulch and playground surface made from soybeans won the $20,000 top prize at the 28th annual Student Soybean Innovation Competition awards ceremony on Wednesday at the Purdue University Memorial Union.

The winners, Team Smulch, consists of Libby Plassard, a freshman majoring in business management and finance from West Lafayette, Ind.; Ethan Miller, a freshman studying biochemistry from Lafayette, Ind.; and Zuhal Cakir, a student working on a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Bursa, Turkey.

The Student Soybean Innovation Competition is sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA) and Purdue University. After hosting virtual events for the past two years, the awards ceremony was live Wednesday on Purdue’s campus. To participate in this competition, Purdue University students must develop novel applications for soybeans that satisfy a market need. The awards ceremony is among the most popular events each year for Indiana’s soybean checkoff.

“ISA looks forward to working with Purdue students each year and seeing what unique products they create,” said Denise Scarborough, a farmer from LaCrosse, Ind., and the chair of ISA’s Sustainability and Value Creation Committee. “The goal of the competition is to showcase the versatility of soybeans while tackling a need in agriculture or the general public. The results of this event expand opportunities and markets for all Indiana soybean growers. Team Smulch has created a safe and necessary product that we think many communities would use.”

Photo provided by the Indiana Soybean Alliance.

Smulch offers all of the best assets of a soy-based product. Because it is made from soybeans, Smulch is safe for children to pick up and play with as a playground surface. As a mulch, it is a unique, new product that is also biodegradable and beneficial to plants.

“We wanted to create something that was going to be safe for those who were around it and safe for the environment that it is in,” said Plassard, one of the winning team members. “We kind of looked for a problem that needed to be solved. We didn’t want to make a soy-based product just to make a soy-based product. We wanted to fix a problem.”

This year, 10 teams composed of 29 Purdue University students and 20 faculty advisors, finished the competition. The participating students represent a variety of majors including agronomy, biological engineering, animal science, pharmacy and environmental and natural resource engineering. In addition, each team works with two faculty advisors who provide technical and market research support.

The contest introduces Purdue students to the multi-faceted uses and vast potential of soybeans while drawing on students’ creativity to develop products that utilize soy. Following the contest, ISA works to develop the products, evaluate their long-term feasibility and commercial viability.

“This event allows ISA to create relationships with bright and innovative students and their mentors at Purdue,” Scarborough explained. “Indiana soybean checkoff funds are used to find new uses and new markets for our soybeans, which creates more demand and helps our farms to be more profitable and sustainable. Some of the products from this contest could potentially have a positive impact on our soybean prices.”

Previous contest winners include last year’s Team Biostimulant, who made a liquid biostimulant, designed to promote growth in crops grown in vertical farms. In 2020, HerbiSoy, a non-toxic, soy-based herbicide, and the winner from 2019, Stroy, drinking straws made from soybean plastic. The ever-popular soybean crayons and soy candles are past winners, as well.

“A highlight of every year on the Purdue calendar is the Student Soybean Innovation Competition,” said Purdue University President Mitch Daniels during a video address to the attendees of the award ceremony. “I’ve got around the office and other places samples of some of the great, winning innovations of the past. Until I attended the competition, I had no idea what you could turn soybeans into. We’re really proud of those who pull this event together.”

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. This team consists of four Purdue freshmen including: Rob Bastain, an engineering major from Austin, Texas; Sarah Juffer, an animal science major from Fishers, Ind.; Charles Sebright, an engineering major from East Berlin, Penn.; and Josh Stephenson, a biochemistry major from Muncie, Ind. “The idea to make this came to us while we were brainstorming ideas on a dry-erase board,” Juffer said.

Finishing third, and earning a $5,000 prize, is Team Silm, which created a 100 percent biodegradable agricultural mulch film. Team Silm consists of three Purdue seniors including: Loan Cao, an environmental and natural resource engineering major from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; Young Choi, a machine systems engineering major from Seoul, South Korea; and Sophie Kwon, a mechanical engineering major also from Seoul.

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 from Westfield, Ind.; Nikki Rytczak, a sophomore from Dyer, Ind., who is majoring in multidisciplinary engineering; Hariharan Thirumalai, a sophomore agronomy student from Singapore; and Miriam Walker, a sophomore from Lafayette, Ind., studying biological engineering.

Indiana soybean farmers’ investment in finding new soybean innovations is not limited to the competition. The state soybean checkoff also funds the Soybean Utilization Endowed Chair at Purdue’s College of Agriculture, Dr. Nathan Mosier, to lead research into new uses for soybeans.

At present, ISA is working with companies in the concrete industry to market an innovative soy-based concrete durability enhancer developed through checkoff-funded research at Purdue University. This soy-based product, called Poreshield, is ideal for concrete roadway infrastructure where protecting the environment is a key requirement or consideration.

Go online to www.indianasoybean.com/checkoff-investments/new-use-innovation for more details on ISA’s investment in soybean innovation.

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