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Greasing the Skids . . . or Rails with Soybeans

Marti Asner
(202) 720-8188
April, 2003

SoyTrak™ is a new, environmentally friendly grease made out of soybeans and used to lubricate the rail curves of railroad tracks. It’s processed and turned into grease on the farm where the soybeans are first picked. It is biodegradable and more efficient than petroleum grease in reducing wear because of its greater durability and capacity for reducing friction. SoyTrak™ is now in use on Norfolk Southern Railway.

The idea for a soybean-based lubricant came out of the University of Northern Iowa’s (UNI) Ag-based Industrial Lubricants Research Program. Funding was provided in part by USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). CSREES is USDA’s lead agency for extramural research.

“ Norfolk Southern’s use of this grease gives new credibility to biobased industrial products,” said Carmela Bailey, National Program Leader for Agricultural Materials at CSREES. “The fact that this product results from a USDA-funded project shows a return on the public’s investment for agricultural-added research.”

The project began 3 years ago with pilot manufacturing plants on three farm sites where soybeans were picked and crushed. The meal was used for livestock feed and the oil to make grease. Two of the farm sites used a room temperature grease-blending process while the third used a high temperature process to produce SoyTrak™. Both summer- and winter- blends are available, and an all-season blend is now being developed.

To ensure quality, UNI researchers prepared and delivered component materials to the farm sites for blending. The finished greases were then brought back to the research facility for batch testing and packaging.

Norfolk Southern’s Research and Test Department in Roanoke, VA spent 3 years testing the grease to ensure it met the demanding requirements of freight railroads. Norfolk Southern operates 21,500 miles in 22 states and is the nation’s largest rail carrier of automotive parts and finished vehicles.

SoyTrak™ is just one of several dozen new industrial lubricants, greases, and base oils made from soybeans.

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