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Soy-based mulch and playground surfacing wins annual Student Soybean Innovation Competition

Three simple ingredients along with a casting mold that created a substitute for mulch and rubber playground turf took the $20K grand prize in the 28th annual Student Soybean Innovation Competition sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance.

Micky Creech, program manager of the Student Soybean Innovation Competition, said the annual event allows Purdue students from all degree areas the opportunity to take their soy-based idea from conception to completion and beyond along with the opportunity to win $5,000, $10,000 or the top prize of $20,000 for the winning team.

The “Smulch” team comprised of Zuhal Cakir, a graduate student in the College of Engineering; Ethan Miller, a freshman in the College of Science; and Elizabeth Plassard, a freshman in the Krannert School of Management, spent the past six months perfecting their soy-based product working up until the very last minute of the awards ceremony. Pinpointing a particular product in need of a soy-based substitute wasn’t something the team immediately had in mind upon entering the competition.

From left Zuhal Cakir, Elizabeth Plassard and Ethan Miller of "Team Smulch" are presented with their grand prize check from Jim Douglas; Indiana Soybean Alliance Chairman and farmer from Flatrock, IN. From left Zuhal Cakir, Elizabeth Plassard and Ethan Miller of "Team Smulch" are presented with their grand prize check from Jim Douglas; Indiana Soybean Alliance Chairman and farmer from Flatrock, IN.

After creating two different prototypes for a soy-based mulch, the group found their ultimate product in the use of soybean flour, soybean polyol and food coloring, leaving the mixture to cure in its mold. While traditional mulch is put through a grinder, Plassard and Cakir said Miller spent his time hand-carving each piece of Smulch, joking it was “made with love.”
The team said they plan to continue their work on Smulch, with all three interested in pursuing the ASPIRE Internship, a summer internship exclusive to Student Soybean Innovation Competition winners, that would propel the soy-based project forward.

Earning second place this year was Team “Brilliant Bean,” which developed a soy-based ink for markers for dry-erase boards. The team consisted of Rob Bastain, a freshman in the College of Engineering; Sarah Juffer, a freshman in the College of Agriculture; Charles Sebright, a freshman in the College of Agriculture; and Josh Stephenson, a freshman in the College of Agriculture.

Earning third place this year was Team “Silm,” which created a 100 percent biodegradable agricultural mulch film. The team was comprised of three seniors in the College of Engineering: Loan Cao, Young Choi and Sophie Kwon.

This contest also provides a People’s Choice award of $500, determined by votes of attendees at the awards ceremony. Team Drip Drop won the award for making a soy-based coffee filter. Team Drip Drop includes: Riley Garrison, a freshman studying finance; Nikki Rytczak, a sophomore majoring in multidisciplinary engineering; Hari Thirumalai, a sophomore agronomy student; and Miriam Walker, a sophomore studying biological engineering.

The Student Soybean Innovation Competition grand prize product "Smulch" is displayed alongside fellow entrees for the 2022 event. The Student Soybean Innovation Competition grand prize product "Smulch" is displayed alongside fellow entrees for the 2022 event.

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