Addressing Current Needs

The market for soybean oil in lubricants is driven by a combination of economics performance issues and environmental concerns. Petroleum or mineral-based oils have historically been, and will likely continue to be, the economical choice for many manufacturers to satisfy performance, logistic and cost targets in many applications. Understanding this, the United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff have invested in research of soy-based technology to complement petroleum products in significant segments of the lubricants market.

The need for readily high-performing and low-toxic lubricants in environmentally sensitive areas has been recognized, and growing regulatory pressure to reduce or eliminate certain emissions of petroleum lubricants should encourage increased incorporation of soy-based oils. Soy-based lubricants, such as all-purpose lubricants, crankcase oils, hydraulic fluids, bar and chain oils, metal working fluids, dielectric fluids, and others are beginning to capture a significant share of this emerging market segment.

Competing Products

Soybean oil will continue to compete with other vegetable oils and synthetic lubricants for a share of the emerging renewable lubricant market. Soybean oil is price competitive and will be the product of choice as it meets customer performance requirements.

When compared with mineral-oil-lubricant basestocks, soy-based lubricants have the following advantages: higher viscosity index, lower evaporation loss and a potential to enhance lubricity, which could lead to improved energy efficiency. Vegetable oils, including soybean oil, do have performance limitations in some uses, particularly in thermal, oxidative and hydrolytic stability, but these problems can be alleviated through oil modification.

Soy-based lubricants are making great strides. Examples of soybean oil lubricant success include Cargill’s efforts to develop and market Envirotemp FR3, a soy-based transformer fluid. The renewable transformer fluid is being used in electrical transformers throughout the world and tests have shown the product has the potential to extend transformer power life three to four times that of petroleum-based mineral oils.

 New High Oleic Varieties

The introduction of new soybean varieties, which contain a high percentage of oleic acid and are lower in saturated and polyunsaturated fats, has the potential to increase soybean oil use in lubricants. High Oleic Soybean Oil (HOSO) is naturally more stable than conventional soybean oil, reducing the need for antioxidants and other expensive additives. HOSO also is more readily modified chemically into synthetic lubricant basestocks, which will compete directly with polyalphaolefins and synthetic esters in lubricant use.

Exploring Future Opportunities

Growing regulatory impacts on lubricants should create more use of biobased lubricants in the United States over the next five to 10 years. The soybean oil industry will follow this effort, providing information on the availability and performance of soy-based lubricants.

Life cycle assessment studies show environmental benefits for manufacturers using soy feedstock, including: lower carbon dioxide emissions during production; less energy production costs; lower VOC content of products; reduced exposure to toxic chemicals; and supply chain sustainability.

If renewable oils are desired as lubricants, the availability of enhanced soy, coupled with its price advantage over other vegetable oils and synthetics, will make it a logical substitute for mineral oils in appropriate market segments.