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Researchers set sights on auto industry

Soybean oil could become a staple of the automotive industry, courtesy of researchers at the University of Guelph.  Under the leadership of Dr. Istvan Rajcan, the research team is focussed on incorporating soybean oil into the Ontario auto sector, particularly for bio-diesel and the manufacture of car parts.


February 4, 2008
By University of Guelph

Researchers Aim to Entice Auto Industry to Use Soybean Oil


January 29, 2008 


Soybean oil could soon become a staple in the auto industry thanks to University of Guelph researchers who are investigating ways to boost the plant's oil yields to give manufacturers a cheaper and greener alternative to petroleum-based chemicals and fuels.


Led by plant agriculture professor Istvan Rajcan, the research team is particularly focused on incorporating soybean oil into Ontario's auto industry, where it could be used as biodiesel fuel for vehicles and machinery as well as in the manufacturing of car parts.


Although previous research has investigated the health benefits of soybeans, this project is the first to examine increasing soy-oil yield for industrial use, said Rajcan.

"Theoretically, almost any petroleum-based product can be made using soybean oil instead."


The project is part of the BioCar Initiative, a multi-university project designed to improve the development and delivery capacity of biomaterials for the automotive industry. Guelph's role includes creating new industrial crops that can be turned into composite materials used to make interior car parts.


With the rising cost of petroleum, the auto industry is looking for a cheaper alternative such as soy oil, said Rajcan.


Funded by the Ontario Soybean Growers and the Agricultural Adaptation Council, the project aims to increase oil content by 15 to 20 per cent over standard soybean varieties. This will make it cheaper to produce, which will encourage manufacturers to switch, he said.


Soybeans could potentially be a better long-term industrial choice than petroleum because of their sustainability, said Prof. Gary Ablett, who is in the Department of Plant Agriculture at the Ridgetown campus and is also working on the project.


"Unlike petroleum, soy oils are renewable. And products based on soybean oil are environmentally friendly. Many of them are biodegradable, and biodiesel fuel produces 30-per-cent less harmful emissions."


To develop high-oil beans, the researchers are combining adapted varieties with high oil levels to produce progeny with higher oil levels.


The final varieties will then be evaluated to ensure they are highly productive and are well adapted to Ontario's climate and disease pressures.


The research team is also investigating ways to manipulate the traits of the plant to produce oil that's suitable for certain products, said Rajcan.


"Through plant breeding, we can change the trait of a plant for a particular use. An example would be reducing the saturated fat in the oil so that it's more suitable for making the foam in car seats."