Old MacDonald's Motor Oil
CopyrightŠ Reuters
 
More than a half century after Henry Ford dreamed of building a car out of common agricultural products, a team of entrepreneurs may have figured out how to lubricate engines with vegetable oils.  
 
A fleet of US Postal Service trucks is currently wheeling around Michigan using AMG 2000, a lubricant made of vegetable oils aimed at serving the environment while creating a new niche market for farmers.  
 
"We actually [came] upon the technology while doing research on other projects," said Rob Allen, vice president of development at research and development firm Agro Management Group in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  
 
A manufacturing plant, to be finished in two weeks in Michigan, will produce 20,000 gallons of the engine oil this year will, Allen said. If eight months of postal service testing go off without a hitch, the five impresarios of Agro Management foresee licensing their formula for production within two years.  
 
"You have to make it a win-win situation for all. This is a product with an agricultural, performance, and environmental bent," Allen said.  
 
That would probably delight Ford, who in 1941 unveiled a car sporting 14 panels made of soy-based composite material that were attached to a metal vehicle frame. The lightweight soy car proved resilient and boasted more efficient fuel consumption.  
 
AMG 2000, tagged with US patent number 5,888,947, is a brew consisting of a vegetable-based oil, an oil made up of hydroxy fatty acids, and another consisting of vegetable or animal waxes. Candidates for the base stocks include soybeans, canola, safflower, and sunflower. The typical hydroxy fatty acid is castor, and waxes include jojoba, meadow foam, and lanolin.  
 
The natural ingredients going into the mix are designed to produce more benign emissions, improve gas mileage and oil consumption, and reduce wear on internal combustion engine parts.  
 
"Unlike the conventional lubricants of the prior art, the vegetable-based oil of the present invention is derived from a renewable source, is biodegradable by naturally occurring microbes in the environment, and is nontoxic to flora and fauna," the patent reads.  
 
After two months of testing some conclusions already have been drawn.  
 
"We're seeing less carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons coming out of the tailpipes," said John Briggs, the  Michigan district's environmental manager.  
 
Some 60 breadbox-shaped postal vehicles will try out the new fluid until next April, allowing examination of its handling characteristics, toxicity, and recycling and disposal capabilities, he said.  
 
"It looks like a promising initiative. [Agro Management was] willing to warrant our engines if they failed because of the oil, so we didn't think we ran a large liability by trying  it."  
 
Michigan was a natural spot for a trial run as it is an agricultural hotbed with leading crops such as soybeans and canola. It is also the home of Detroit, the automating capital of the country. Influential agriculture groups around the state and legislative bodies pushed for the deal to go through.  
 
A fleet system such as the post office's is optimal for trying out the veggie crankcase lubricant, Allen said. "It's the quickest market entry, and it's a well-maintained system that offers rigorous over-the-road testing."  
 
The postal system is buying the stuff for about US$2 a quart, or roughly double what a regular petroleum-based oil would cost.  
 
"The cost will not be a problem when you weigh all the ancillary benefits of this," Allen said, adding the price will drop with volume, setting the product apart from predecessors.  
 
"There are biodegradable oils out there, but they are hard to find and cost about $15 a quart," he said.  
 
High price tags have prevented other alternative resources such as bio-diesel -- which costs three to four times more than regular diesel -- from excelling in the marketplace.  
 
"It's more expensive, so [bio-diesel is] not making the splash one would want it to," said scientist Gerhard Knothe of the ARS National Center for Agriculture Utilization Research.  
 
Availability is also a common problem. "You're not going to get [bio-diesel] at the service station around the corner. It's for niche markets where environmental concerns are a priority."  
 
Previous attempts to lube engines with vegetable oils have consisted of additives to petroleum-based oil. But AMG 2000 "improves upon the prior art by providing a liquid lubricant that is composed principally of vegetable-based components," the patent reads.  
 
The inventors of AMG 2000 herald the reusable facet of their product.  
 
"After you drain it from the crankcase, you can use it for other applications such as spreader oils, bar chain oils, dust suppressors, etc.," Allen said.  
 
AMG 2000 would replace crude petroleum, a non-renewable natural resource that is regularly dumped indiscriminately after being drained from internal combustion engines.
 
This information was taken from Wired News: http://www.wired.com
CopyrightŠ 1999 Reuters Limited.