Two professors at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla are working on using soybean oil to replace a mixture of water and petroleum in industrial metal cutting.
The fluid is needed to lubricate and cool metals in industries including automotive, aerospace and medical manufacturing.
Right now, it takes buckets of the oil-water mix to do the job, and the researchers think they can replace that with just a few drops of soybean oil.
“The current method, it leaves large quantities of waste, because how this is done is, it is flooded. The conventional way is to flood the cutting zone,” said Monday Okoronkwo, a chemical engineering professor at Missouri S&T.
“Our preliminary work shows just a few drops of soybean oil, in aerosol form, can perform almost as well,” Okoronkwo said.
The results were published in the International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology.
Ford Motor Co. is one of the companies interested in adopting the process quickly.
“They (Ford) have shown interest that once we have proven the concept, that it is easy for them to adopt it into their production flow,” said Anthony Okafor, professor of mechanical engineering at the university.
The advantages of soybean oil include that it is biodegradable, will require less cleanup than the current method, is safer for workers and would be cheaper, according to Okafor’s projections.
It could also create another market for soybean oil, which could help farmers.
Soybean oil has proven its ability to lubricate better than the oil-water mix, but it doesn’t cool the cutting area quite as well. The researchers’ next step is to add various nanoparticles of materials, possibly aluminum oxide or titanium oxide, to the soybean oil to make it better in all ways.
Okafor and Okoronkwo are appealing to the National Science Foundation and the Missouri Soybean Association for funding to complete the last round of tests.
“We’re testing this on the same machines they use in factories,” Okafor said. “So as soon as we show it works, it can immediately be transferred to industries.”
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl