Soy Grease On Track for Sales Boom


Calling it a commercial breakthrough for its soybean-based lubricants, the University of Northern Iowas Ag-Based Industrial Lubricants Research Program announced Monday that Norfolk Southern Railway has decided to use its SoyTrak grease across its entire network of rails.

ABIL officials said the choice by Norfolk Southern not only represents a quantum leap in sales of SoyTrak; it also opens the door for the grease to be accepted by other major railroads. Norfolk Southern plans to use SoyTrak on straight sections, as well as curves, greatly increasing the volume of grease demanded. That decision could open the way for other railroads to do likewise.

For a niche product, this is a very significant contract, ABIL Director Lou Honary said. This is just a huge boost to our program.

ABIL was formed in 1991 with a mission of helping to develop soybean-based industrial products as a way to support U.S. agriculture. The Cedar Falls, Iowa, university later founded Environmental Lubricants Manufacturing Inc. to commercialize its products.

Among the products it has developed, SoyTrak has been marketed for several years as a grease to be used on rail curves – the sections of railroad that are exposed to the most pressure and wear. The product was already being used by two dozen or more local or regional lines, but volumes remained low because of ELMs inability to win over any of the nations five major railroads.

The situation suddenly changes with Norfolk Southerns conversion from the petroleum-based greases that the industry has traditionally used. The Norfolk, Virginia-basedrailroad by itself accounts for 20 percent of the 9 million pounds of rail grease consumed in the United States each year.

Norfolk Southern officials said they wanted to switch from the greases the company was using because they tended to collect along the bottom of rails. Rail greases are applied to rails by trackside lubricators and then are spread along tracks by railcar wheels.

We had a problem with the amount that was accumulating because it makes it hard to identify stakes that are coming loose, Project Engineering Manager Donald E. Cregger said. Then if you had to clear it away to do repairs it became a bit of a hazard because of the[molybdenum] it contained.

This new product contains soybean oil and graphite, so it decomposes in six weeks and eliminates that problem. But we also found some wonderful side benefits. Its a polar material, so it adheres to the rails much better and spreads farther. It also has much better lubricity, so it not only protects the rails better; its also easier on the internal pumps. Were already seeing benefits in the field.

Honary said Norfolk Southern represents an important endorsement. The railroad places particular emphasis on protecting its curves because it is the largest carrier of automotive parts and finished vehicles -heavy loads.

Norfolk Southern uses more than five times as much grease as all of our other customers combined, he said. But the really significant thing is that they have a leadership position in this area, so the other companies will have to look at this. Were already talking seriously to two of the other major railroads because of this.

Waterloo, Iowa, soybean farmer Blake Hollis has founded Biobased Industries LLC to blend and package SoyTrak. Portec Rail Products Inc., of Pittsburgh, Pa., will serve as distributor.

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