Industry Test New Vegetable Oils as Industrial Lubricants
By Linda McGraw
March 26, 2001
Several newly developed vegetable
oils--from soybeans, canola, corn, sunflower, lesquerella, and
meadowfoam--could replace more expensive and less biodegradable synthetic
chemicals for industrial uses, according to an
ARS chemist in Peoria, Ill.
Researchers at ARS' National Center for
Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria have developed and
tested more than 50 new fluids derived from vegetable oils. They have also
turned these vegetable-oil based fluids into replacements for petroleum-based
Under a research agreement with Caterpillar
Inc., in Peoria, the ARS scientists are learning which of their 50 plus new
fluids have the most potential as base oils for lubricants. So far, two have
been found to perform as well as petroleum-based lubricants, according to Sevim
Z. Erhan, leader of oil chemical research at NCAUR. The payoff: U.S.
agriculture benefits by increasing the demand for U.S.-grown agricultural
Environmental concerns have created a high demand for biodegradable
lubricants and hydraulic fluids, but only two percent of the hydraulic fluids
in bulldozers, tractors and heavy equipment is biodegradable.
The ARS approach might help make the use of biodegradable lubricants more
successful. Rather than develop a final lubricant for a specific use, Erhan and
her colleagues make simple chemical modifications to vegetable oils and test
them for improvements before adding lubricating additives. These modifications
enable a biodegradable product to perform nearly as well as a synthetic one,
but at lower cost.
Biodegradable vegetable base oils cost about 35 cents a pound. In contrast,
lubricant manufacturers face costs ranging from 25 cents for a base of mineral
oil to $1.50 a pound for a base of synthetic esters.
Caterpillar engineers are testing the performance of one of the
ARS-developed base oils.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency for the
Scientific contact: Sevim Z. Erhan, ARS National Center for
Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill., phone (309) 681-6531, fax
(309) 681-6686, firstname.lastname@example.org.