UNI's NABL sees success over the years

Thanks to the work of the University of Northern Iowa's National Ag-Based Lubricants (NABL) Center, biobased and soybean oil based lubricants and greases are no longer a novelty, but are a well-recognized commercial success.

NABL will cease operations in 2014 after 22 years of activity due to the loss of federal funds. The nonprofit, university-based research and testing facility dedicated to the advancement of biobased lubricants has made a significant long-term impact in establishing the biobased lubricants market within the U.S.

Firsts for UNI's NABL:

  • First soybean oil based tractor hydraulic fluid introduced in 1997.

  • First soybean oil based chain saw bar oil introduced in 1998.

  • First soybean oil based truck fifth-wheel grease introduced in 1999.

  • First soybean oil based rail curve grease introduced in 2000.

  • First soybean oil based transformer fluid introduced in 2002.

  • First line of metalworking fluids introduced in 2005. 

  • First soybean oil based engine oil for Continuous Oil Recycling System (CORS) introduced in 2008. 

  • First microwave-based grease manufacturing/chemical processing introduced in 2010.

"After 22 years of efforts, there is a growing biobased lubricants industry owing its success partially to the work of the UNI NABL Center," said Lou Honary, director of NABL.

NABL successfully developed and licensed to market more than 30 products, ranging from multi-grade hydraulic fluids to niche-market greases to gear lubricants. Products include the high-performance multi-grade hydraulic fluid BioSOY™; a patented electrical transformer fluid named BioTRANS™; a chainsaw bar oil called SoyLINK™; a rail curve lubricant called SoyTrak™; and SoyTRUCK™, a semi truck fifth-wheel grease.

NABL was established in 1991 through the collaborative efforts of UNI, the Iowa Soybean Association/Iowa Soybean Promotion Board, the state of Iowa, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy. Through the years, more than 50 students worked at the center and helped with research. Eight patents and three pending patents were generated from the work of the NABL staff, and two companies were formed to specifically market technology that was created at the center.

"UNI students have been the main workforce behind our research," said Honary. "This has been a win-win situation because students have gained experiential learning while doing applied research that benefits the university, farmers and the country in general."

Since 2000, when commercialization of the NABL licensed products began, an estimated $40M worth of lubricants and greases have been marketed by different entities.

"We feel we have accomplished many of the goals and objectives of the center," said Honary. "Originally, we thought this was going to be a 1-3 year project but it grew to a major national center and operated for 22 years. We know the legacy of the center will continue as the products that were produced by NABL are in commercial use and continue to grow in the market."