Feds Closer to Buying Biobased Lubes


How much plant or animal oil will it take to comply with a U.S. law aimed at spurring demand for biobased lubricants and other products? Perhaps as little as 29 percent for mobile hydraulic fluids. Maybe as much as 71 percent for penetrating lubricants.

Those two categories of lubricants were among the first group of products designated by the Department of Agriculture last week to fall under the Federal Biobased Products Preferred Procurement Program. Content levels are still being defined, but proponents said the designation brings the law a step closer to taking effect. Officials say the law should begin to spur government purchases of ag-based lubricants over the second half of this year.

The purchasing procurement program was authorized by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 in an effort to support U.S. farmers. It has yet to take effect, as agencies have spent the intervening years defining the types of products that would be affected and levels of agricultural products needed to qualify as biobased. In January, the Agriculture Department gave federal agencies one year to implement plans that will give preference to biobased products.

On July 5, the department designated six categories of products to fall under the law. The list is diverse. In addition to hydraulic fluids for mobile equipment and penetrating fluids, it includes urethane roof coatings, water tank coatings, diesel fuel additives, and bedding, bed linens and towels. Officials said the department plans to finalize six more rules designating dozens more products during the next fiscal year.

At the same time, the department is still finalizing content requirements, even for the first six products. It proposed that mobile hydraulic fluids have a minimum of 24 percent plant or animal oils. Officials noted that this is the lowest level suggested for tested fluids, but suggested that a higher level might make it difficult to obtain adequate products for high-performance applications. For penetrating fluids, the department has recommended a minimum biobased content of 71 percent.

The department will accept public comments on the proposals for 60 days before finalizing them.

The procurement program requires federal agencies to choose biobased products over conventional alternatives as long as performance and cost are equivalent.

In some cases, that means that suppliers of biobased products are going to have to lower prices or be locked out of the program, said Steven L. Devlin, an industrial specialist at the Iowa State Universitys Center for Industrial Research and Service, which was contracted to assist in implementing the program. But that was the point of the program – to increase volumes so that suppliers would have the scale to lower prices.

Although agencies are not required to implement their plans until January, Devlin said a few have already begun to do so, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the USDA Agriculture Research Center.

For more information about the program, visit http://www.biobased.oce.usda.gov.

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