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Is vegetable-based motor oil
the wave of the future?

There are many ways to make cars greener. Among them is the alteration of the lubricating oils used in internal-combustion engines and in the drivetrains of electric vehicles.

These fluids can be made from vegetable oil.

The idea goes back to at least World War II. The current dominant supplier, Ohio-based Renewable Lubricants Inc. (RLI), has been developing this kind of oil since 1991. (There is another manufacturer in the U.S., Green Oil, but it uses a different process and the oil is less effective.)

Veggie-oil products still only account for a tiny fraction of the market.

Don Marentette is trying to change that, through DM’s Bio-Based Fluid Supply, a company he founded in 2007, now operating from a Bolton industrial plaza, and the main Canadian distributor of RLI’s products. (There are two other suppliers of RLI veggie oil in Canada: Acklands Grainger Industrial Supply, in Richmond Hill, and Thermal Lube, in Pointe-Claire, Que.)

Most veggie oil is made from canola or soy grown in Ontario, and, increasingly, the U.S. The oil generally consists of genetically modified varieties developed by seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

Since it breaks down at high temperatures, the oil can’t be used on its own in engines; it must be combined with synthetic oils.

For now, the limit is 30 per cent veggie content for motor oil, a considerable improvement from the 22 per cent maximum of five years ago, Marentette says.

For hydraulic fluids, which are subjected to less heat, this threshold can go as high as 80 per cent.

Veggie oil reduces engine wear in two ways: it’s light, so, with some modifications, it stays liquid even in cold temperatures.

Also, it adheres well to cylinder walls, pistons and other engine parts, which means they remain lubricated even if the car hasn’t been used for a while.

It’s three to four times better at this than conventional mineral oils, Marentette says. Both qualities mean the oil is ready to do its work reducing wear and tear as soon as the engine starts.

As well, veggie oil is less likely to break down and acidify when contaminated by gasoline and liquids in the engine. This, too, means less damage to metallic parts.

It has several environmental benefits: it replaces fossil fuels, requires less energy for processing and fewer additives to enhance performance, degrades relatively quickly in the open air, and is much less toxic than conventional oil.

(This last quality has led some golf courses to use veggie hydraulic fluid in their grass-mowers.)

The genetic modification of the canola and soybeans is controversial. It is designed to increase the oil’s lubricating qualities and longevity by boosting their oleic content.

The use of agricultural land to grow crops not used for food is contentious. Marentette argues veggie oil creates a high-value crop that can keep farmers in business.

A report published several years ago by the American Society for Horticultural Science touts the virtues of oil from this source:

?Canola-based motor oils have rapidly evolved into a competitive product. In terms of pricing, they are highly competitive with synthetic motor oils. They are also the most ?environmentally friendly’ of the motor oils available,? and they ?exceeded expectations by surpassing both conventional and synthetic oils in the tests conducted.?

The tests, in a lab and on the road, also produced what the report’s authors called ?a pleasant surprise.? With its superior lubrication, and reduced friction, veggie oil reduced fuel consumption slightly. It cut emissions of nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and other pollutants significantly.

The oil is generally more expensive than conventional oil, but costs a couple of dollars per litre less than the regular price of the top-quality synthetic brands, Marentette says. It must be changed about as often as synthetics, comes in every grade, and can be used in combination with other oils.

No retail outlets carry his products yet. So Marentette says customers must deal directly with him, in person or online.

Veggie oil is more popular in Europe than North America, and sales have developed slowly here.

?Even though they’re trying to be green, people forget about lubrication,? Marentette says.

Change usually comes by slow, small steps, and the development of vegetable-derived motor oil seems to be one of them.

wheels@thestar.ca

  • Is vegetable-based motor oil <br>the wave of the future? Subject: On 2013-05-17, at 10:09 AM, Towie, Brian wrote: Peter Gorrie column June 1 VeggieOil.jpg
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