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Missouri S&T Researchers Looking To Soybean Oil To Improve Industrial Metal Cutting

Professors Anthony Okafor (left) and Monday Okorokwo (right) in their lab where they are working on a soybean oil fluid for industrial cutting.
Missouri S&T
Professors Anthony Okafor (left) and Monday Okorokwo (right) in their lab where they are working on a soybean oil fluid for industrial cutting.

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

Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. His duties also include covering central and southern Missouri for Harvest Public Media. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.