Soybean-based golf balls? This research team at a university in Kansas is working on them

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Researchers at the Kansas Polymer Research Center at Pittsburg State University are partnering once again with the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council to create an eco-friendly version of an “everyday product” and this time it’s golf balls.

“We have developed some eco-friendly batteries using the soybean and we thought ‘Hey what is next’ and we thought golf could have use for bio-based materials,” PSU chemistry professor Ram Gupta said. “Golf balls are a pretty big industry. It’s about a 3.8- or 4-billion-dollar industry.”

Last month Gupta and graduate students embarked on a new project in ecofriendly design — making golf balls out of biodegradable soybean polymers.

“Many times, golf balls are lost in the field or the lake or the pond and it does not degrade,” Gupta said. “So our idea is to use some material that is from the biome and that will help to sustain the future.”

The project — which got off the ground last month and is expected to last around two years — is being conducted in two parts. One part focuses on creating the inner part of the golf ball and the other on the harder outer shell.

“Our idea is to use soybean-based materials such as soybean meal to use for the inner core,” Gupta said, “and for the outer layer — you can see this has to be very strong — we are using soybean oil-based polymer to make the outer layer.”

The project is grant-based and funded by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, which announced the research venture this summer as one of its soy check-off supported projects, in which farmers contribute one-half of one percent of the sale price of their soybeans to research, promotion, and education.

“We know that the material from the soybeans has a lot of potential,” Gupta said.

Gupta and his team have already created the soy-based material for the outer layer and now begin work on the inner soy-meal based core. Gupta emphasized though that they would not be creating golf balls at the research center, which he says would take a lot of equipment they don’t have. Instead, he said they will supply a golf-ball manufacturer in California with the raw materials and they will then produce the golf balls and test them.

“Matching the performance of a common golf ball with the bio-based ball will be a challenge,” Gupta said, “because there are lots of things the golf industry is looking for, like how far it will go, how it swings, how it rotates in the air. Those things will be challenge, but I think we can do it.”

There is a lot of work ahead for the research team, but Gupta said the work thus far has been promising.

“It’s very primitive results that we have,” he said, “but those results are pretty exciting.”

Soybeans are the number one crop in Missouri, and one of the top 10 crops in Kansas.

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