Soybean or Soya Bean (Glycine max) is one of the world’s most important plants. This leguminous annual produces oil rich beans which are valued not only for their food products such as Tofu and Soysauce and fish and livestock feed, but also for its potential as a source of biodiesel. It is a true wonder crop, producing over 40% protein whilst packing 20% oil content and 20% carbohydrate, alongside several important amino acids.
Soya Biodiesel or Soydiesel
Like other biodiesels, Soya Biodiesel can be used at full 100% concentration in unmodified diesel engines. It provides most of the raw materials for the US’s biodiesel market, whereas in Europe, energy crops such as Oil Seed Rape and Sunflower take on that role. Soybean are first dried and crushed, then extracted by means of solvents such as cyclohexane (C6H12).
Soya Bean Cultivation
Soybean has been cultivated in its native habitat of Southeast Asia for 5,000 years. It has now been adopted around the globe and is Soya Bean is now cultivated around the globe with the US producing around 50% of the world crop, and Argentina and Brazil the next largest producers. Its multi-purpose potential as both food and biofuel has encouraged vast increases in Soya cultivation. Brazil and other Amazonian nations are seeing more rain-forest being logged to allow new Soya farms to be built. Other South American nations such as Bolivia and Paraguay are increasingly putting land over to soya.
Monsanto’s GM strain of Soya known as Round-Up-Ready (RR), dominates the Soya market in North and South America. Monsanto’s clever business strategy was to design a GM strain which incorporated a gene which protected it from their powerful herbicide Round Up. Thus by planting RR, farmers could theoretically spray as much pesticide as they needed to subdue any vegetation without endangering their Soya Crop. Environmentalists point to the inherent dangers of such ethno-botanical cleansing, as if only one species is allowed to flourish, the ecological benefits drawn from a healthy biodiversity can collapse wider systems.
In certain areas such as Amazonia, the huge market for Soybean products is meaning that large scale monocrop farms are replacing native forest and other forms of landuse. The use of GM herbicide resistant strains means huge quantities of toxic herbicides are now added to the pesticide loading of the surrounding environment and water courses. The eco-credentials of biofuels can be harmed when such damaging land use and farming practices impact on other parts of a nation’s wellbeing. Such issues must be addressed at all levels.