High-oleic soybeans have gone where no bean has gone before — specifically, the streets of Las Vegas.
Biosynthetic Technologies, a synthetic oil manufacturer that uses bio-based ingredients, has produced synthetic motor oil made from Monsanto’s Vistive Gold high-oleic soybeans. The company just finished a successful test of the soybean-based motor oil in a fleet of taxis in Las Vegas.
“Those cabs have been running for over 150,000 miles using the synthetic oil that we make as their motor oil, and they changed it every 7,500 to 10,000 miles just like you would any synthetic motor oil,” said Allen Barbieri, Biosynthetic Technology chief executive officer. Click her to read more on the best oil filters for cars.
The food industry was the first to show interest in high-oleic oils. The specialty bean results in an oil profile with better health benefits and longer shelf and frying life. Now industrial companies are taking stock of potential end uses.
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Beyond the motorway, the high-oleic vegetable oil is being tested for use in foams, greases, make-up, conditioners, lotions and hydraulic fluids. It is even being considered as a replacement for petroleum-based oils used under the ocean, where a non-toxic, biodegradable oil could help make leaks less disastrous for marine life.
That’s good news for Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, the two companies that have rolled out varieties of high-oleic soybeans, which are genetically engineered to produce oil with no trans-fats, less saturated fat and higher levels of oleic acid than commodity beans.
“We have over 500 different testing agreements out there right now, and many of them are industrial players,” said Russ Sanders, Pioneer’s director of food and industry markets. Pioneer is marketing its varieties of high-oleic soybeans under the brand name Plenish.
Barbieri’s company has been working with Monsanto’s Vistive Gold beans for three years to make their soybean-based synthetic motor oil.
Companies have been making petroleum-based synthetic motor oils since the mid-1970s, but brewing up a version from vegetable oil has taken a lot of work, Barbieri told DTN. Synthetic oils are made by restructuring the molecules in the base oil, which makes a lubricant that lasts longer, provides better lubrication and less friction and runs more cleanly. Some automakers already require that car owners use synthetic motor oils if they want their cars to stay under warranty. Barbieri said the industry expects all car companies will require them in five to 10 years.
Biosynthetic Technologies needed oil with at least 70% oleic acid content, and they chose soybeans over other high-oleic crops like canola because of their large geographical presence, Barbieri said.
New motor oils must pass a punishing battery of tests with automakers before they can hit the market.
“It takes upwards of a year and over a million dollars,” Barbieri explained. “They run it in an engine for a long period of time under high-stress conditions and then they tear the engine apart to look for the usual wear or corrosion.”
Biosynthetic’s new soybean-based oil has passed three automaker’s tests and is now doing trial runs in fleets of police cars and taxi cabs around the country.
“We’re the first company that’s ever developed a product like this that meets the current automakers’ quality standards, so it’s the first time any company has certified a motor oil that has a significant bio-content in it,” Barbieri said.
For now, the soybean-based motor oil is priced competitively with other synthetic motor oils, but above traditional motor oils. “We eventually hope to be competitive with conventional motor oils but work substantially better,” Barbieri said.
Biosynthetic Technologies is only churning out 25,000 gallons a year for testing now, but work is underway on a production facility in Houston that would initially produce 25 million gallons a year starting around 2016.
“As this thing continues to grow, we would expect we would make upwards of 100 million gallons in the U.S. and have a plant in Europe and Asia,” Barbieri said. “It’s a very, very big market and there’s a high degree of excitement and demand for the product, so we see it growing to be a very big part of the lubricant market.”