BIO 25/30

Canola-based motor oil roars onto commercial markets

Vegetable oil makes saute sizzle, chips crunch, and salads snap, but does it make motors hum? It has since Duane Johnson got hold of it. Johnson, associate professor with Colorado State University's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, has turned this kitchen staple into the motor oil of the future.

Bio 25/30, a blend of canola and soybean oil, is a proven environment-friendly alternative to petroleum motor oils. It drastically reduces vehicle emissions when compared to traditional motor oils, and doesn't pollute the environment when it's produced. Independent tests show a 30 percent reduction of hydrocarbons, a significant decrease in carbon dioxide, and an average of 4.5 percent better fuel economy.

In addition, canola oil is not a hazardous material, unlike petroleum oils. That makes disposal of used Bio 25/30 much easier. Or the oil can be recycled into greases and chain oils that produce no waste — yielding essentially 100 percent recycled products.

The process of making canola-based motor oil is much like the process of making cooking oil: canola seeds and soybeans are crushed, extracting the oil. The remnants of canola seeds are fed to livestock, and the oil continues through a special process to make it the right consistency for motor oil.

Bio 25/30 has generated interest all around the world, with parties from as far away as Guam, Britain, and Jerusalem expressing interest in using and distributing it. Contracts and pending agreements with governments for use of the oil in their vehicles include the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, and California, and the countries of Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, India, Malaysia, and Germany.

Johnson started research on canola in 1986 and developed the oil in 1993. He's tested Bio25/30 in several vehicles including a 1966 Ford Thunderbird and a 1970 Ford Mustang. The oil is about the same weight as 10W- 30 oil.

Agro Management, a company in Colorado Springs, is working with Johnson to commercialize Bio 25/30. The company signed a limited partnership in August 1998 with Thumb Oilseed Producers Cooperative, a Michigan-based cooperative. The partnership will clinch Johnson's dream by industrializing production of the oil and placing it on consumers' shelves within six months to a year.

Bio 25/30 is expected to cost about double what petroleum oil costs, but comes without the added price for disposal of a hazardous material. Most consumers who make the switch to the vegetable-based oil can expect to pay about $10 more for motor oil per year. Even so, a U.S. Navy cost analysis indicates that Bio 25/30's better fuel economy and decreased disposal costs could save the government between $3 and $10 per vehicle. The oil currently is being reviewed for certification for use in warrantied motors.

As a Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station scientist, Johnson looks for alternative crops that can be raised in Colorado, ensuring that agriculture remains a viable lifestyle in the state. His research in growing canola in the state has focused on the San Luis Valley and the High Plains, where area farmers are raising canola.

"The success of Bio 25/30 helps us reach toward our beginning goal when we developed the oil — to give farmers another option for a viable crop," said Johnson. "It's possible that additional processing plants will be built in rural communities where the oil is grown. That means more jobs and resources for small-town economies, in addition to cleaner air and less waste."

The project makes raising canola a more lucrative proposition for farmers. Farmers in the southern end of the state likely will be most successful in raising canola, a crop that is susceptible to frosts and winterkill. Johnson's current research is showing as much success with the use of safflower and sunflower oils as a motor oil, which opens markets on Colorado's High Plains and the northwestern and southwestern parts of the state.