Soy Lubricant Expert Sees Opportunity for Manufacturers to Enhance Product Performance

If you ever find yourself wondering what soybeans and excellent lubrication have to do with each other, Bob Brentin of Omni Tech International is a good guy to have on hand.

With over 30 years of experience in the chemical and materials industry, Bob has worked on new product and market development for Dow Chemical and holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and a MBA from Central Michigan University. Currently a technical consultant for the United Soybean Board (USB), Bob attends events throughout the year on behalf of USB, such as the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, the International Elastomer Conference, and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers Annual Meeting to spread the word about the many benefits soybean oil provides in lubricant and other industrial applications.

USB communications staff caught up with Bob for a quick update on why soybeans — specifically high oleic soybeans — should be top of mind for industrial lubricant manufacturers and users.

Is high oleic soybean oil (HOSO) currently being used in lubricants? If so, what industrial applications is it being used in?

Bob: HOSO is relatively new, and many companies are exploring and evaluating it in lubrication formulations. One example is Environmental Lubricants Manufacturing (ELM), a bio-based machinery lubricants manufacturer that’s looking to further the industrial market for HOSO. For more than two decades, ELM has been substituting petroleum with homegrown U.S. soybean oil in lubricants and hydraulic fluids.

Another significant development is use of HOSO to make an estolide product for lubricants. Estolides are oligomeric esters derived from oleic acid and saturated fatty acids with improved properties suitable for industrial lubricants, personal care products and other chemicals. Biosynthetic Technologies, now an operating unit of Calumet Specialty Products Partners, achieved American Petroleum Institute certification for two estolide-based motor oil formulations. Several major lubricant manufacturing companies are now working with Biosynthetic Technologies on products that will meet the upcoming GF-6 specification for increased fuel efficiency while maintaining engine performance and engine protection.

Lubricants based on vegetable oils comprise a specific segment; yet they are finding their way into a wide array of applications: chainsaw bar lubricants, drilling muds and oils, straight metalworking fluids, food industry lubricants, open gear oils, biodegradable grease, hydraulic fluids, marine oils and outboard engine lubricants, oils for water and underground pumps, rail flange lubricants, shock absorber lubricants, tractor oils, agricultural equipment lubricants, elevator oils, mold release oils and two stroke engine lubricants. The variety of uses of HOSO as a lubricant ingredient continues to expand.

In your conference paper given at the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers Annual Meeting, you mention “improved thermal stability is now possible” with high oleic soybean oil. Explain why improved thermal stability is a benefit when it comes to industrial lubricants.

Bob: Higher thermal and oxidative stability increases oil longevity. The loss of lubricity and accompanying sludge formation significantly reduces the life of operating components by accelerating component wear.  Many points in the system can add heat, such as bearings with high frictional resistance and fluid pushed through orifices and restrictions.

The more polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as linoleic and linolenic, a lubricant contains, the more susceptible it is to oxidative and thermal degradation. HOSO has reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Improving thermal stability by using HOSO should expand the use of soy in industrial applications.

Why would a manufacturer choose to use soy-based lubricants (either commodity or high oleic soybean oil) over those that contain petroleum?

Bob: Biobased lubricants have a significant advantage in areas where environmentally acceptable products must be used — like government-run facilities such as national parks and military bases. Government regulatory policy encouraging environmentally acceptable products should speed the adoption of biobased lubricants in these facilities.

Soybean oil lubricants offer several advantages including higher viscosity index, lower evaporation loss and a potential to enhance lubricity, which leads to improved energy efficiency. Typical performance limitations of thermal, oxidative and hydrolytic stability are alleviated through additives and chemical modifications in the oil for many applications.

Lubricants impact the environment throughout production, usage, and disposal. The awareness and concern over their impact on the environment has many state, federal and international regulatory bodies reviewing current policy, with some agencies enacting new regulations. Impending global regulations have led many lubricant manufacturers to seek environmentally acceptable alternatives, such as soy, that also meet the rigorous application performance requirements.

Are there cost savings or government incentives realized by companies when they make the switch to soy-based lubricants?

Bob: There are several guidelines from various organizations relating to the marketing of lubricants with potential for environmental impact. In Europe, there are the European Union’s Ecolabel, Germany’s Blue Angel and the Nordic Swan ecolabel. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates discharges of various effluents into the U.S. waters by ships or vessels via the Vessel General Permit (VGP). In order to obtain a VGP, a vessel or ship operator must comply with the provisions of the Clean Water Act — using soy-based lubricants can help with this. In addition, the U.S. BioPreferred program, used by government agencies, gives purchasing preference to biobased products.

In what industrial applications (i.e. lubricants, motor oil, etc.) do you see the greatest potential for high oleic soy oil?

Bob: Soy-based lubricants are noted for their enhanced lubricity and high viscosity index along with low evaporation loss and low flammability. Having low toxicity and being readily biodegradable, they offer a sustainable and renewable option for a broad range of lubricants, oils, and grease applications. With the recent development of high oleic soybeans and chemical modification technologies, formulations with improved thermal stability are now feasible which will extend the use of soy into additional uses in markets such as automotive (passenger car motor oil, truck engine oil, gear oil, grease), industrial (process oil, hydraulic oil, compressor fluid, metalworking fluid), and marine (hydraulic oil, grease, gear oil, cylinder oil).

Another large potential application for HOSO is thermoplastic elastomers made from polyacrylated epoxidized high oleic soy oil that will modify asphalt used for road paving. The soy-based polymer enhances the performance grade rating, improving resistance to rutting and cracking over a broader temperature range.

Discover how soy can meet your industrial use needs at soynewuses.org/usesoy by learning more about soy lubricants and how USB funds environmentally-friendly soy based products.

Brentin, Robert, 2018, “Soy-Based Lubricants: Performance and Sustainability”, Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers Annual Meeting, Environmentally Friendly Fluids Session 7G.

Brentin, Robert, 2014, “Soy-Based Chemicals and Materials: Growing the Value Chain”, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 1178, pp. 10-12.

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