With such a rich nutritional profile, it’s no wonder that the soybean is a popular staple food in many parts of the world. The problem, however, is that the husks these beans naturally come in are typically discarded during processing, leaving a significant amount of waste behind. In fact, in the US alone, around eight million tons of soybean husk are discarded annually.
That overwhelming amount of waste, however, may soon be diverted from landfills thanks to a novel ingenious process that transforms soybean shells into functional 3D-printing materials. Not only that, but the technique also provides a healthy sugar substitute in the process.
Developed by researchers at the University of Louisville (UofL), the project seeks to create a commercially viable process that can convert the soybean hull biomass into a low-calorie, diabetic-friendly sugar alternative, all while extracting micro and nanoscale fibers that can be reused for creating lightweight fiber composites and bio-plastic packaging via 3D-printing.
“Agriculture and agricultural processing are keys to economic development and employment in the US Xylose separation and use of soy hull fibers for natural fiber composites are potent opportunities for addressing worldwide farming economics, nutrition issues and material needs from a renewable source,” said Mahendra Sunkara, director of the Conn Center
To produce the sugar substitute, called xylose, the researchers used a patented process that extracts it from the soybean exodermis. After the xylose is extracted, the residual fiber, which is about 80 percent of the starting biomass, has a modified fiber structure that can be used as a natural fiber in composites for 3D-printing applications.