sealPurdue News

May 2001

Purdue team fires up with soy-based oil

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A team of Purdue University students devised a home heating fuel oil that is cheaper and burns cleaner than regular fuel oil, earning first place in the seventh annual New Uses for Soybeans Student Contest.

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Their soy heating oil mixes 20 percent soybean oil with regular fuel oil and can be used without making any changes to existing heating systems. The estimated cost of the blended oil is 10 percent less than the cost of fuel oil alone.

Members of the winning team are Matt Peter of Odon, Ind., Louis Cassens of West Lafayette, Ind. and Rebekah Kennedy of Akron, Ohio. All are seniors in the School of Agriculture. Team advisor was Hartono Sumali, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

The winning team received $4,800. The contest, which promotes using innovative ways to incorporate soybeans into products, was sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Board and the Purdue School of Agriculture. Finishing second in the contest were the creators of Soyastic, a plastic made with soybeans. The team was awarded $2,400.

Cassens said the soy heating oil has a 2 percent lower heating value than regular heating oil but that the small heat loss is more than offset by the lower product cost. "Some of the fuel oil smell is also gone," he said. "You do detect some of the soybean smell, but that is not as bothersome as the smell of sulfur."

Soybean oil is a renewable resource that is produced in the United States and is largely unaffected by international relations. And team members say the long-term environmental and social advantages exceed even the monetary advantage of the product.

Kennedy predicts the soy heating oil will find a market. "No one likes change, but the cost may be the most tempting thing for homeowners," she said.

Peter said he was surprised to learn how many potential uses for soybeans there were when he entered the contest. Looking at the fuel reserves that were on hand for the most recent heating season, the team estimated that 7.4 million barrels of soybean oil could have been blended with the existing fuel oil. That would have created a potential market for more than 222 million bushels of soybeans. "That would really help farmers," Peter said.

The Soyastic team described their product as a homemade plastic that could easily be used to make repairs or craft items. The team members, all in the School of Agriculture, were Erica Clerc, of Elkhart, Ind., Karen Lewis of Seymour, Ind., and Leah Maxwell of Francesville, Ind. The team was advised by Martin Okos, professor of biochemical and food process engineering.

Contest administrator Bernie Tao, associate professor of agricultural engineering and food science, said the New Uses for Soybeans Contest gives undergraduate students an unusual opportunity. "This contest mimics real life," he said. "The students must learn about research, development, marketing and meeting deadlines. It helps them learn to be successful."

Sources: Hartono Sumali, (765) 494-1197;

Louis Cassens, (765) 463-5912;

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-2722;

Other sources: Rebekah Kennedy, (765) 743-1572;

Matt Peter, (765) 746-1688;

Bernie Tao, (765) 494-1183;

Related Web site:
Indiana Soybean Board

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS:  A copy of the New Uses for Soybeans Contest video release is available from Brian Baxter at 317-638-2338.

Purdue students (from left) Louis Cassens, Matt Peter and Rebekah Kennedy used a heater to test their invention of a soybean-based heating oil. Their invention earned top prize in the seventh annual New Uses for Soybeans Student Contest. The competition sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Council and Purdue University. (Purdue Agricultural Communications Service Photo by Tom Campbell)
A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: soycontest.2001

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