Biodegradable Hydraulic Fluid Nears Market By Linda McGraw
April 19, 2000
A new vegetable-based biodegradable hydraulic fluid for use in
heavy equipment is moving toward commercialization.
Agricultural Research Service scientists
in Peoria, Ill., are producing industrial-sized quantities of starting
material--the basis for making biodegradable lubricants--from sunflower oil
fatty acids. The industrial scale-up production is being done in a recently
renovated pilot plant at the ARS National
Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR).
ARS chemists Terry A. Isbell and Steven C. Cermak made hydraulic
fluid that contains estolides, which are fatty acids from high-oleic oilseeds
like sunflower and safflower. The ARS researchers received a U.S. patent on the
technology in February.
Technically, hydraulic fluids dont lubricate mechanical
systems; instead, they transfer pressure in machinery to activate motion, such
as a moving crane or a blade. But sunflower oil can replace petroleum-based
hydraulic fluids, which do not degrade well.
Construction equipment manufacturers, like
Caterpillar Tractor Co., headquartered in
Peoria, began seeking biodegradable alternatives in response to tighter
environmental regulations from the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA). Other scientists at the Peoria research facility
are engaged in trials with Caterpillar to test biobased hydraulic fluids and
biodiesel fuels in heavy equipment.
Sunflower oil estolides produce a clear fluid that pours well at
below-freezing temperatures, making this hydraulic fluid desirable for engine
operation during cold weather, according to Isbell.
The work was done under a Cooperative Research and Development
Agreement (CRADA) with Lambent
Technologies of Chicago. Lambent is seeking licensing rights to market the
ARS is the chief research agency for the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Scientific contact: Terry A. Isbell,
National Center for Agricultural
Utilization Research, 1815 N. University Street, Peoria, IL 61604; phone
(309) 681-6235; fax (309) 681-6524,