- FORT COLLINS--Imagine a motor oil that cuts automobile pollution by 40 percent.
Duane Johnson doesn't have to imagine such a product anymore--he's made
it a reality. Johnson, a Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
new and alternative crops specialist, developed a lubricant made from canola
oil, a seed crop grown in Colorado. The canola-based lubricant drastically
reduces automobile engine emissions compared to emissions from traditional
- Canola oil is traditionally used as a
cooking oil, especially in Asian foods. However, with processing adjustments,
it is as effective an engine lubricant as any traditional motor oil.
- "The benefits of using a canola-based
oil in place of petroleum motor oil don't stop with reduced automobile
emissions," said Johnson. "Processing canola into oil produces
no waste. By-products include only oil and ground seeds, called meal, which
can be feed to livestock. There is no waste from the plant, and the production
of the oil does not contribute to air pollution."
- Johnson added that because canola oil
is produced from a seed, it is a renewable resource--unlike petroleum.
It's also easier to dispose of canola oil than its petroleum counterpart.
The oil meets United States Environmental Protection Agency standards for
solid waste disposal, and accidental spills are considered non-hazardous.
- "Using canola oil in place of petroleum
oils would drastically cut hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions from
cars," said Johnson. "That's a great benefit in areas such as
the Front Range. And, when burned in an engine, canola oil smells like
- Used canola oil from automobile engines
can be recycled into greases and chain oils. These products are called
"total loss lubricants" because they leave no residual or waste.
Johnson, who drives an old Volkswagen Beetle lubricated with canola motor
oil, can also attest to its efficiency and durability.
- So why isn't the oil available to the
general public? Besides competition from petroleum products, there are
several other obstacles to overcome.
- "Because canola motor oil is essentially
a vegetable oil, the American Petroleum Institute will not certify it,"
Johnson said. "And, automobile manufacturers require that only API-certified
oil be used in their engines or manufacturer warranties are void."
- Johnson, who identifies markets for new
and alternative crops that can be raised in Colorado, initiated a canola-crop
project in Colorado's San Luis Valley in 1986. The canola crop flourished,
but the cost of shipping the harvested crop to a processing plant proved
too expensive. Two years later, however, Johnson and John Rhodes, a Monte
Vista farmer, raised funds to design and build a facility to toast canola
seeds for salad topping.
- In 1990, Johnson used his personal funds
to purchase an oil press to produce cooking oil. Through such projects,
Johnson is able to achieve his most important goal--providing rural development
and support and improving profitability for farmers through the commercialization
of new products.
- Johnson started developing canola motor
oil in 1993 at the request of Agro Management Group Inc., a Colorado Springs-based
agricultural research, development and marketing corporation. Johnson teamed
with Agro Management, a business that specializes in finding new uses for
old crops and developing new technologies for alternative crops. As a state-funded
educational institution, Colorado State is prohibited from marketing products
for commercial use. Agro Management acquired the patent rights to the canola
oil, which is now patented in Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand,
Argentina and Japan.
- Canola motor oil is gradually gaining
commercial acceptance. Wisconsin and Michigan state governments are in
contract negotiations with Agro Management to use the oil in state-owned
vehicles. Canola is already an emerging industry in these states, and Johnson
estimates it will take 200,000 acres of canola to supply motor oil for
Wisconsin's fleet of state vehicles. Officials in New Zealand are considering
a similar agreement.
- If canola motor oil replaced just 5 percent
of the petroleum oil used today, the United States market for canola motor
oil would be roughly 50 million gallons. To meet that demand, canola crops
would require as much land as is now devoted to corn production.
- Canola motor oil, which is about the
same weight as 10W-30 oil, is expected to be priced at $1.50 per quart,
only a few cents more than petroleum-based motor oils. But consumers won't
have to pay to dispose of used canola oil as they do petroleum oil.