Oilseeds find industrial niches

Grain and oilseed crops like soybeans and canola are increasingly starting to replace traditional petroleum-based product ingredients, lessening our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels and creating new market opportunities for growers.

One market that is growing rapidly is that of bio-based lubricants and industrial fluids, which includes everything from hydraulic and transmission fluids to greases, motor oils and fuel additives, said Soy 20/20 President Jeff Schmalz at the winter meeting of the Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre held recently in Guelph.

“There are many large niches that are possible in this category,” he said. “In fact, we’ve identified bio-based lubes as one of the top opportunities that could happen with vegetable-based inputs, and there’s a wealth creation piece in there for producers.”

Bio-based lubricants are already being widely used, including in the boat that won the annual America’s Cup race this year, by the US military and even on oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

In Canada, the market is just starting to emerge, according to Don Marentette, President of DM’s Bio-Based Fluid Supply Inc. of Bolton, who also spoke at the meeting. Marentette is the Canadian distributor for Renewable Lubricants of Ohio, a world leader in the field.

“Today, we’re focused on generating general awareness of our products to establish a market for green technology,” Marentette said. “Tomorrow, we want to start producing these kinds of products here in Canada.”

According to Marentette, high oleic oilseeds are an excellent base material for high performance lubricant products, typically doubling the life of motor oil, for example, from 5,000 to 8,000 or even 10,000 km. This year will mark the first time that high oleic soybeans will be grown in Ontario with an estimated 10,000 acres going into the ground this spring.

Marentette says that although the cost is a little higher than that of conventional lubricants, bio-based products will last longer, thereby reducing overall maintenance costs.

The University of Guelph is now using the products in its zamboni machines, snow plows, chain saws, lawnmowers and even some of its vehicles following a very successful trial last year.

Among Canada’s other early adopters are Princess Margaret Hospital, golf club owner Clublink Corporation, Rockwell Automation, plastics manufacturer Ampacet and a growing number of municipalities, including Richmond Hill, Halton Hills, Vaughan, Guelph, Montreal and Quebec City.

“The Canadian lubrication oil and grease market is 1.1 million cubic metres annually,” said Marentette. “A one percent market share equals $600,000 in incremental premium to soybean growers from 30,000 acres of high oleic soybeans.”

Note: I first wrote this article for Ontario Farmer; published March 23, 2010.

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