Lear Corporation, one of the world’s leading automotive interior suppliers, has developed a soybean oil-based flexible foam material—SoyFoam—for automotive interior applications.
Most auto manufacturers today use a 100% petroleum-based polyol foam. Per year, the US market for this material is 3 billion pounds; 9 billion pounds worldwide. An average of 30 pounds of petroleum-based foam is used in each vehicle produced.
Lear’s soy-based foam material is up to 24% renewable as opposed to traditional non-renewable petroleum-based foam. Advantages of SoyFoam include a lower environmental impact to produce, reduced dependency on petroleum and the potential for reducing foam costs.
Traditionally, the materials used to form flexible polyurethane foams for industrial applications are derived from petrochemical resources such as glycerin and ethylene oxide.
Ford Motor Company was the first automotive manufacturer to express an interest in soy foam for automotive applications and the first to demonstrate that soy-based polyols could be used at high levels (~40%) to make foams capable of meeting or exceeding automotive requirements. (Earlier post.)
In 2004, Ford and Lear formed a partnership to commercialize SoyFoam applications, with initial work concentrated on the molding of headrest and armrest components. Lear also is collaborating with the United Soybean Board—New Uses Committee (a group of 64 farmers/agricultural industry leaders), Urethane Soy Systems Company, Bayer Corporation and Renosol Corporation on SoyFoam development.