Farm Bill Boosts Biobased Lubes


Marketers of lubricants made with vegetable oils, agricultural products such as animal fats and oils, or forestry materials, will find a tasty morsel within the 400-plus pages of the Farm Bill.

Signed into law May 13 by President George W. Bush, the new law includes a biobased products preference program which obliges all government agencies to purchase biobased products “to the maximum extent practicable.”

Products that are covered by the procurement program include lubricants, inks, paints and coatings, plastics, adhesives, solvents and cleaners, and more, according to Kurtis Miller of Cargill Industrial Oils and Lubricants, Minneapolis, Minn.

“We at Cargill may not like or agree with everything in this law,” Miller told Lube Report, “But we certainly like this part of it. The federal government, including the military, is the world’s single largest customer. It buys nine million gallons a year of motor oil alone. Right now, you can make a quality engine oil that is up to 40 percent vegetable oil based, and hydraulic oils can be formulated to be 70 to 80 percent biobased, so you can immediately see the potential impact this bill will have.”

The bill orders the Secretary of Agriculture to issue final regulations on biobased products, including minimum content standards, within 180 days. All government agencies then will have to be in compliance with those guidelines within one year after the final rulemaking.

The Agriculture Dept. still has to issue certain definitions and guidelines. A key issue will be what percent of a product must be biobased (5? 20? 40or more percent?) in order for the product to be eligible under the procurement preference program.

Agriculture is also to establish a “U.S.D.A. Certified” label that could be used by vendors.

The term “biobased product” is spelled out in Section 9001 of the Farm Security & Rural Investment Act of 2002, which says “the term ‘biobased product’ means a product determined by the Secretary to be a commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that is composed, in whole or in significant part, of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials (including plant, animal, and marine materials) or forestry materials.”

Section 9002 is where the procurement preference is mandated, and covers any government purchase over $10,000. There are exceptions, however. Agencies may decide not to purchase a biobased product if it is not “reasonably available within a reasonable” time frame; if it fails to meet performance standards; or if it is available only at an “unreasonable price.”

“This is really essential,” Miller noted. “We don’t want to give the government anything that won’t perform as well as a standard mineral oil based product, because that would just kill the program, but we already have years of experience and data showing the performance of biobased hydraulic fluids, metalworking fluids, and other lubes including engine oils.”

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