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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

How Plants Can Help Powerful Engines Run Smoothly -- Text Only

How Plants Can Help Powerful Engines Run Smoothly

If you like engines, you probably know that most engines need fresh oil now and then. Maybe you've helped a parent or friend put oil in a car engine or lawn mower engine.

Most engine oil has extra ingredients in it that are called "additives." Additives help the oil do a better job of making the engine run smoothly and powerfully without making awful screeching noises.

Right now, most additives that are used in engines in the United States—in cars, boats, lawn mowers, earthmoving equipment, and many other everyday machines—are made from petroleum. Planet Earth has a lot of petroleum in the ground and in the ocean. But when we have used up all of that petroleum, it's gone forever. That's why it is called a nonrenewable natural resource.

What should we do?

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists like Sevim Erhan say that you can make additives from the natural oil that is in familiar plants like corn. In fact, Dr. Erhan and her colleagues, Dr. Brajendra K. Sharma and Dr. Atanu Adhvaryu, have made additives from corn. They did the work at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois.

The idea of making additives from familiar plants is not new. But the process that Dr. Erhan and her team invented is original, so the scientists received a patent on it.

In their laboratory, they tested the additives to see if they work as well as everyday additives made from petroleum. The scientists were very pleased to find out that, so far, the additives made from plant oil work just as well as additives made from petroleum.

Some companies that make additives have talked to the researchers about the invention and might decide to use it to make additives from plants. That would help our country become less dependent on petroleum for making additives. We could use plants that we grow in the United States instead of relying on petroleum shipped to us from other parts of the world.

U.S. farmers would be happy, too, because it would give them a new market for their crops. Also, the plant-based additives would help the environment, because they are fully biodegradable, which means they would not pollute the environment.

In fact, everybody wins with this new invention from Dr. Erhan and her team.

—By Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

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Last Modified: 2/14/2011
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