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The Versatile Soybean. A Good Source For Protein, Fuel And Soon ... Golf Balls

Ram Gupta holds up a sample of a polymer made from soybean oil, and an early prototype golf ball.
Pittsburg State University
Ram Gupta holds up a sample of a polymer made from soybean oil and an early prototype golf ball.

A new home for soybeans could be on the fairway, as research is under way to make golf balls out of the crop.

Researchers at Pittsburg State University in Kansas are working to see if they can replace the oil-based plastics that go into making golf balls with materials made from soybean oil.

They are off to a good start.

“We are able to make a polymer, which is as hard as the outer layer of the golf ball, which is a great success so far in a few months,” said Ram Gupta, a chemistry professor at Pittsburg State.

Gupta said they are now working on ways to make the inside of the golf balls also using soybean byproducts. Then they will test them with the hopes that they will perform as well off the tee as the balls they would replace.

“We’re doing this for both environmental and economic reasons,” Gupta said. “We believe that this will be very cost effective because we are trying to use a very cheap material, which is very readily available. And these days there are huge concerns about recycling of materials. And the idea came, can we make something which will be easy to recycle and is eco-friendly, also?”

The Missouri Soybean Association is funding the project, its latest attempt to look for new uses and markets for soybeans.

“Research is a cornerstone of our pursuit of innovative solutions to the challenges we face as farmers,” said Kyle Durham, a farmer and chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council board of directors. “It’s exciting to see the creativity being applied to growing our markets by developing new uses for the soybeans we grow.”

Other Missouri Soybean Association-funded research in progress includes making tires out of soybean materials.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.