Soy Stakes Claim in Pallet Debate

MHM offers an exclusive look at a new soy-based pallet going to market later this year.

Wood and plastic pallet suppliers will face more competition this year, according to a new pallet manufacturer. An entirely different material is entering the pallet debate, and the stakes are higher than ever.

Axios Mobile Assets plans to bring to market an engineered composite pallet it claims will revolutionize the pallet industry. Derived from soy-based resins and other natural components, the new pallet has a higher reusability rate than its plastic counterparts, is half the weight of a wood pallet, does not absorb liquid or mold, meets ISPM-15 phytosanitary standards, contains no deca-bromine or methyl bromide and has earned provisional UL 2335 approval, according to Axios.

Making a pallet out of soy seems unconventional, but Rich MacDonald, founder and CEO of Axios, says soy has a longstanding track record as a raw material. He points out that Henry Ford used soy-based plastic on a portion of one of his automobiles and discovered that the material’s strength and flexibility were comparable to reinforced plastic. But, the use of soybean oil as a raw material didn’t get much attention at the time because petroleum-based resins were cheaper and more abundant.

However, today’s increasing oil costs and corporate sustainability directives may be encouraging another look at soy.

A recent life-cycle analysis of soy polyols shows that they have roughly one-quarter of the environmental impact of petroleum-based polyols. The National Institute of Standards and Technology used the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) model to analyze the lifecycle of a soybean, from growing it in the field to using its oil in polyurethane applications. The BEES analysis concluded that, for every one pound of soybean oil used as raw material in manufacturing, almost three pounds of carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere.

Since the new pallet uses soy oil instead of fossil fuel-derived oil, MacDonald says, it has a smaller carbon footprint than other reusable pallets. He also claims the soy-based pallet material costs 20% less to produce than high-density polyethylene because less energy is used in the manufacturing process. At end of life, the pallet can be ground up into a powder base, which can then be used as raw material to make new pallets.

In addition to these environmental benefits, the new pallet can also help companies generate revenue, according to MacDonald. “The pallet is embedded with RFID,” he says. “So, companies can track shipment movements and then track and calculate carbon offsets and carbon credits based on those movements. They can generate carbon credits every time a pallet moves.”

Companies without RFID capabilities can still track pallet movements using EDI, barcodes, ASNs or any other type of input, MacDonald adds.

Axios plans to offer samples of the new pallet in June, with general availability set for the end of 2010.

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