Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Square Peg - The Soy Bean Connection... er Confection... er Correction



The Square Peg - The Soy Bean Connection... er Confection... er Correction
© S. Bradley Stoner

I was out in my garage tending to my soy bean crop. That’s right, you heard me... soy beans. I have a hundred and thirty two plants in pots... that’s all I could fit in my garage. I have an automatic drip irrigation system set up so I don’t have to worry about watering them. I have strips of blue and red light emitting diodes attached to the roof to promote rapid growth.

Duncan Donutz stopped by while out on his morning walk. Duncan is trying to get rid of his pot belly... the one he gained from his inability to pass up any Krispy Kreme shop in the vicinity and his love of beer. I don’t know how he stands that combination, but that’s just me. Anyway, Duncan walked up my driveway to see what I was up to since my garage door was open. He looked at my little potted plants and asked, “Whatcha growin there?”

“Soy beans,” I replied.

“That seems kind of odd,” he opined. “Don’t they grow those in fields?”

“Yep, but as you can see, I’m a bit limited on acreage. Besides, the Home Owners Association said I couldn’t plow up the yard unless I planted back a new lawn. That doesn’t do me any good.”

“Well, here’s a better question... what in tarnation are you growing them for?”

“I’m experimenting with plastics... I want to build a whole car body out of the stuff like Henry Ford did back in the 1930s.”

“You can do that?” he looked puzzled.

“Yep. You just have to grow the beans, powder them into soy protein, mix that with some other vegetable proteins, add some ethylene glycol and then vacuum mold the parts.”

“Can you buy that stuff... the ethylene whatever you called it?”

“Well sure... it’s on the auto product shelves in Walmart.”

“Huh?”

“It’s antifreeze... you know, the stuff you add to your radiator. In the process, it’s called a ‘plastisizer.’

“Sounds like a lot of trouble to go through. How much plastic can you make from these plants?”

‘Well, not much,” I admitted. “It’d take me several years to grow enough in my garage to make a whole car.”

“Well, what’s the frickin’ point of that? Why not just go buy some of that molding plastic... it’s would be a lot faster and probably cheaper.”

I admitted that was probably true, but I explained that soy plastic was a green product. Since it’s essentially made of food grade materials, it was completely biodegradable, unlike petroleum plastics that persist for years and just keep degrading into smaller and plastic bits that accumulate in the environment. “You see, microbes can break down vegetable proteins... heck, in a pinch you would probably be able to eat soy plastic if it didn’t have some residual antifreeze in it. That stuff’s not good for you.”

Duncan shook his head with a puzzled look on his face. “I still don’t get it.”

“This is just an experimental test bed,” I explained. “I’m trying to perfect a process. If I can get the formula down right, I’m going to patent it and put it on Kickstarter to raise funds for a real production facility. If it goes, I’ll start a small proof of concept plant and then sell the process... I’ll make millions.”

“How long do you suppose that will take?”

“Probably a couple of years to perfect the process, then another year to raise the capital and a year to build a pilot plant... after that, who knows? But really, who cares? I’m retired... I’ve got the time.”

Duncan walked away shaking his head and I spent the rest of the day working on the set up. Early in the afternoon, I realized that I no longer had room in the garage to use my workshop. Considering I had to build outdoor racks for the soybeans for when I moved them, that made things a little inconvenient, but there was always the back porch. Late in the afternoon, my lovely returned home from her job. I knew she was home, because I could hear her honking the horn. I hurried through the house, trailing bits of sawdust, and went out through the garage to greet her and tell her about my latest experiment. For some reason, she didn’t look too happy.

“Hi...” was about as far as I got.

“You have about ten minutes to start clearing that mess out of the garage... I’m not leaving my car out in the hot sun... and I HOPE you didn’t leave a trail of sawdust throught the house!”

I wonder if Edison and Ford had to put up with that. I’m busy the next two days. Something about power washing the garage floor and taking down those “stupid lights.”