The food industry remains the biggest user of U.S. soy oil, but new soybean varieties with the high oleic trait have the potential to revolutionize the industrial applications of soy.
Many of the same attributes that make high oleic soy oil attractive to the food industry, such as increased functionality and stability and its low saturated fat content also make it appealing to manufacturers of other products, such as lubricants, paints and plastics.
"The good thing about this oil is that it has great characteristics for use on the food industry side, but those same characteristics make it excellent for industrial applications," says Steve Howell, president of MARC-IV, consultants for industrial uses of agricultural products. "So it's really a win-win for the soy industry."
High oleic oil performs well in extreme temperatures. The oil remains a liquid in colder weather longer than traditional soy oil, ensuring products like lubricants, solvents and biodiesel remain usable in a wider range of locations and seasons.
"Right now, solvents, lubricants work fine in Missouri in the summer time, but they don't work as well during Minnesota winters," says Howell. "Materials might gel up. High oleic helps to mitigate that problem."
The temperature at which high oleic oil begins to gel is about 15 degrees lower than traditional soy oil.
High oleic also withstands high temperatures. Both high oleic and traditional soy oil have significantly higher flash points, the temperature at which a liquid catches fire, than traditional petroleum distillates which makes them safer for consumers to use. But high oleic's low levels of poly-unsaturated fat improve its high-heat performance and oxidative stability, increasing its potential for use in applications where traditional soy oil may fall short.
"The same properties that extend its fry life increase high oleic's stability where heat and oxygen are present," says Howell. "This means that it has a great potential for use in places where high temperatures are an issue, like in engines."
In both high and low temperatures, high oleic oil reduces friction between metal parts more than other oils, making it a great material to use in lubricants.
Add in its renewability and sustainability benefits and high oleic soy is an attractive alternative to petroleum-based chemicals. However, Howell says, price remains an important consideration.
"As the price of crude oil goes up, the cost of animal and vegetable products becomes much more appealing in some of those industrial markets," says Howell. "It always comes down to price, but soy has a big opportunity here."
Because of the high oleic's potential to increase the demand for U.S. soy, the soy industry is committed to expanding high oleic acres and marketing the varieties to end customers. Now, all farmers have to do is grow it.
"If soybean farmers want to continue to grow soybeans, we need to look for new and expanded markets for our product," says Dale Profit, soybean farmer from Van Wert, Ohio and secretary for QUALISOY. "We need to be at the forefront of providing exceptional products that meet the demands of our customers."