U.S. Awards Funds for Bio-based Test Center


The University of Northern Iowa has received a $1 million federal grant to begin expanding its Ag-Based Industrial Lubricants Research Program into a national testing center for bio-based lubes.

Officials said it will take another five years of grants – plus financial contributions from industry – to establish a comprehensive center. But much sooner than that they expect the center will start greasing the way for agricultural-based products to enter the lubricants market.

We are seeing a growing acceptance of and demand for bio-based lubricants, ABIL Director Lou A.T. Honary said. This center should help ensure that users get the products they are looking for.

The university, located in Waverly, Iowa, established ABIL in 1991 with a goal of helping develop new markets for farmers of vegetable oil crops. The program has concentrated on soybean oils, although it has also worked with a variety of oils, including rapeseed, sunflower, cottonseed and meadowfoam seed. In 2000, the university and Honary established Environmental Lubricants Manufacturing Inc., a for-profit entity created to take bio-lubes to market.

Honary said the bio-based lubes market is ripe for a national testing center, partly because oflegislation directing federal agencies to use bio-based products.

This market is growing now because of that legislation, Honary said. When you start to get more demand for these products, it just creates more questions. We want to help provide answers because its important that end-users dont have bad experiences that give a black eye to these products.

A number of existing independent laboratories – as well as testing equipment makers and lubricant and additive companies – offer testing for lubricants, including bio-based lubes. Honary sees Northern Iowas testing center serving a unique role by specializing in bio-based lube tests and by providing a comprehensive range of tests. He added that the centers prices should be affordable even for small companies trying to get products to market.

If youre developing a tractor hydraulic fluid, you need to show results from a number of different ASTM tests, he said. A small entrepreneur farmer trying to develop a product based on one crop cant afford that amount of testing.

In addition to its testing services, ABIL officials expect the center to serve as a clearinghouse for information about bio-based lubes and their performance characteristics.

Officials expect most of the centers business will initially come from farmers or farming organizations and small entrepreneurs. Eventually, they expect it to serve larger clients, including large oil companies.

As these products become more popular and more widely used, well see larger companies enter the market, Honary said. We expect even the larger petroleum-based lubricant companies to use [the center]. Certainly they have their own resources, but they will be able to augment what they have with our facilities. We understand our industry very well and we can help them accelerate the process of getting products through to the market.

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