Public Release: 

Michigan Agreement Puts Canola Motor Oil On Consumer'S Shelf

Colorado State University

FORT COLLINS, Colo.--Colorado and Michigan officials today signed a limited partnership agreement to industrialize the production of canola-based motor oil, developed by Duane Johnson, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension alternative crops specialist.

Johnson, along with representatives from Agro Management, a Colorado Springs-based business commercializing the environmentally-friendly oil, were at Michigan State University in East Lansing to sign agreements with Thumb Oilseed Producers Cooperative, a Michigan-based soybean producer-owned cooperative. TOPC produces soybean cooking oil but is poised to industrialize the canola-based motor oil for consumer use.

The canola-based motor oil drastically reduces vehicle emissions compared to petroleum-based oils and doesn't pollute the environment when it's produced. Independent tests show a reduction of hydrocarbons by about 30 percent and a significant decrease in carbon dioxide. The process of making the oil is much like that of making canola-based salad oil. The canola seeds are crushed, which extracts the oil and leaves a ground-meal byproduct. The meal can be fed to livestock.

In addition, it's easily disposed of because it is not a hazardous material, unlike petroleum-based motor oils. Once the canola-based motor oil is used in vehicles, it can be recycled into greases and chain oils that produce no waste--yielding essentially 100 percent recycled products. The oil also contains some soybean oil.

"The agreement with TOPC marks the first time canola-based motor oil will be industrialized, although the oil has been tested in several states, including Colorado, California, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, and in New Zealand," said Johnson. "Use of the oil not only benefits the environment, it's also a huge boost to rural communities needing alternative crops and markets for their products."

Immediate use of the oil produced by TOPC will be concentrated in the Michigan area, said Jim LeCureux, Michigan State University Cooperative Extension agriculture agent. LeCureux said the oil will be available to Michigan consumers in about six months.

Johnson's research, funded in part by Colorado State University's Agricultural Experiment Station, has been focused in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, where area farmers are raising canola and crushing seeds to produce motor oil for testing.

"The industrialization helps us realize the beginning goal of developing 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 pollution."

Because the canola-based oil is not made from petroleum, it's not certified for use by the American Petroleum Institute--a requirement by automobile manufacturers for use in warrantied engines. The oil isn't certified by the API because it is a vegetable oil, not a petroleum oil. However, many government agencies are testing the oil for use in government engines.

Johnson, whose primary focus at Colorado State Cooperative Extension is to identify crops that can be raised in Colorado, started research on canola products in 1986 and developed the motor oil in 1993. He teamed with Agro Management, which specializes in finding new uses for old crops and developing new technologies for alternative crops. Agro Management has patented rights to the canola-based motor oil. As a state-funded educational institution, Colorado State is prohibited from marketing products for commercial use.

Johnson has tested his own formula for canola-based engine oil in several vehicles including a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle and 1970 Ford Mustang. The oil is about the same weight as 10W-30 oil and is expected to be priced at about double the cost of petroleum motor oils. But, it comes without the added cost of disposal for used oil.

Johnson said most consumers who switch to the vegetable-based motor oil will have an increase of cost by about $10 a year per vehicle, based on 12,000 miles traveled per year and an oil change every 4,000 miles.

Johnson estimates that if canola oil replaced just 5 percent of the petroleum oil used today, the United States market for the oil would be roughly 50 million gallons.

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