Plastic Possibilities

Spray-on Plastic Provides Blast Defense
The same plastic that is sprayed as a lining for truck beds is now being used to protect U.S. troops. The durable polyurethane/polyurea coating can withstand the blasts of varying sizes and standoff distances. As such, it helps reduce one of the greatest threats from an explosion—the shrapnel of walls, windows, fixtures, and equipment flying at high speeds. The coating is being used on the armor plating around the machine gun mounts on Hummers and light-armored vehicles in the Middle East, and also in the ballistic vests protecting more than 50,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) also selected the proprietary bomb blast coating application for the renovation of the Pentagon in the event of another terrorist attack. To date, the plastic has been applied to more than 18,580 m2 (200,000 sf) of building surface.

Harvesting Plant/Plastic Composites
As surprising as it may sound, using soybeans to manufacture plastics is not a new idea. In 1933, Henry Ford replaced a small portion of the rear of one of his automobiles with soy-based phenolic plastic. He then took a sledgehammer to the rear panel, demonstrating the material’s strength and flexibility. A soy-based polyol combined with isocyanate creates a polyurethane resin system. This ingredient can then be used in both rigid and flexible polyurethane foam applications for everything from construction materials (e.g. spray foam insulation and carpet backing) to agricultural and household uses (e.g. shoe soles and tractor cushions). When the soy-based insulation is sprayed, the open-cell, semi-rigid foam expands 100 times its original liquid size. The insulation forms a virtually airtight seal as it expands to fill in every crevice, reducing heating and cooling costs. Additionally, the soy-based spray foam is not believed to be affected by time or moisture and will not settle, according to the United Soybean Board ( While these plant/plastic composites are not a silver ‘bio-bullet,’ they have had success in niche applications—further research and refinement will determine their best application purposes.