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Soy-based lubricants offer an alternative to traditional petroleum-based oils and greases in the marketplace. With funding support from the United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff, a U.S. farmer investment organization, soybean oil has the potential to provide lubrication for many industries including the automotive, industrial and marine markets.
The attractiveness of soy-based lubricants is driven primarily by environmental concerns, performance and economics. The regulation of environmentally sensitive areas, growing regulatory pressure to reduce or eliminate certain emissions of petroleum lubricants and federal legislation passed in Section 9002 in the 2002 farm bill all call for the use of biobased products.
The 2002 farm bill instructs U.S. federal agencies to use environmentally preferable biobased products when such products are readily available, are reasonable in cost and meet identified performance standards. Changes are also being made in the private sector as diesel and lubricant users continue to look for better-performing lubricants that remain competitively priced.
Soybean oil is a candidate for a share of the environmentally sensitive and renewable lubricant markets along with other vegetable oils and with synthetic lubricants. Soybean oil with mid- or high-oleic content or modifying soybean oil with additive packages either chemically or genetically holds the greatest opportunity for achieving significant levels of soybean oil in finished lubricant formulations.
There are multiple markets where soy-based lubricants offer alternatives to petroleum counterparts as described below by companies making these products. Some of the most promising areas include the following:
Multipurpose Gear Lubricants
These lubricants can be used on almost any metal surface. Natural seed oil, such as soybean oil in multipurpose gear lubricants, has the potential to enhance the lubricity of most conventional oils. The primary use of multipurpose gear lubricants is to protect metals against friction and everyday wear. Natural seed oil, such as soybean oil, has the ability to protect ferrous metal components from rust and corrosion. It can handle both sliding and rolling loads, and it reduces vibration and noise.
Biofood-grade lubricants or greases use such biobased elements as soybean oil and are engineered specifically for incidental food contact in the food processing and packaging markets. These lubricants include hydraulic fluids, gear oils, aluminum cutting oils, air tool oils, penetration/corrosion inhibitors and extreme pressure (EP) greases.
These state-of-the-art lubricants provide excellent oxidation stability and demonstrate exceptional performance under extreme pressure and wear, with significant resistance to corrosion. The benefits are that they are biodegradable and renewable, with low toxicity and low volatility.
Wire-rope lubricants are designed for automatic application to all types of wire ropes and chains in a variety of services and environments. These lubricants cover and penetrate like oil and remain in fluid form, increasing protection and wire-rope life. Some of the benefits of using soybean oil in wire-rope lubricants are that it is nontoxic, is safer for workers and can extend equipment life. Wire-rope lubricants can be applied as a spray or with a wipe or brush, or they can be dipped.
About the Organization
The soybean checkoff is a collective investment supported by soybean farmers. The efforts of the checkoff are directed by the United Soybean Board, composed of 68 volunteer farmer-leaders nominated by their state-level checkoff organizations, called Qualified State Soybean Boards. The nominees are appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to the Board.
USB is working continuously to fund research and development of soybean oil for lubricant base stocks. Nearly every year, USB funds technical developments that discover additional uses for biobased lubricants. To learn about other new uses for soy-based products, visit www.soynewuses.org.