Elevator Fluid Gets Environmental Lift from Soybean Oil

Rows-of-soybeans

Did you know that the oil from U.S. soybeans can help give you a lift or bring you down with a push of a button?

That’s right – some 17,000 gallons of soy-based hydraulic fluid is now powering elevators across the Pennsylvania State University’s 22 campuses, thanks to a list of collaborators including the Pennsylvania Soybean Board and national soy checkoff, Penn State researchers and the university’s administration.

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It all started in 1998, when the hydraulic hoses on tractors at the university farm leaked hydraulic fluid into the ground, causing expensive contamination of soil and water. Lysa Holland, an engineer at the university, connected with Dr. Joseph Perez, an expert on biobased fuels and oils for the solution- and the tractors started using soy based fluid.

Then Holland got the idea of using soy-based fluid in the university’s hydraulic elevators, an area Perez’s team had been working on since 1995. As it turned out, USDA successfully tested the soy-based elevator fluid in the Statue of Liberty in 2002. Bunge purchased the licensing agreement three years later, making the product commercially available. Since then, it’s been known as AgriTech® soy-based hydraulic fluid.

The state Department of Environmental Protection then approved the fluid, and all hydraulic elevators were switched to the soy-based product.

“This is a perfect case history of how all concerned parties-those responsible for operations, those responsible for compliance, and those who have the scientific knowledge and skill-at a university like Penn State can work together, to advance sustainability goals,” says Steven Maruszewski, the assistant vice president physical plant.

Dr. Perez credits the soy checkoff on playing a role in the early development of soy-based hydraulic fluids.

“The Pennsylvania Board provided some funds for the first study on soy-based hydraulic fluid for the Penn State tractors, and USB has provided funds for study in handling the used fluid,” he says.