A group of forward-thinking Montanans from Wheatland County south of Lewistown plan to jumpstart their lagging economy by getting into the oil business. They’re not looking to drill for the black gold in some wildlife refuge. They intend to grow it.
The group, Environmental Alternatives, LLC, recently embarked on a feasibility study to examine the economic prospects of producing bio-oil, an environmentally-sound lubricant made from canola that can be used in place of petroleum-based oil.
“The oil is totally biodegradable, nontoxic, non-hazardous.” says project coordinator Alicia Moe. “You can spill it on the ground, in the water supply. You can even lick the dip stick.”
Bio-oil is not only safer to handle than petroleum-based oil, but it burns cleaner and can be more efficient, she says.
“If used in place of petroleum-based motor oil, it results in a significant reduction in hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide,” says Moe. “It results in increased fuel mileage and is recyclable.”
Bio-oil can be manufactured from many crops including safflowers, soybeans and sunflowers. Environmental Alternatives settled on canola for their production needs because it can be successfully grown locally. Wheatland County farmers, many of whom have had bad luck in the wheat market, may be given the chance to gain a valuable cash crop which has a positively impact on the environment.
Environmental Alternatives is licensed to manufacture and sell numerous bio-oil products including two-cycle oil, which can be used locally in snowmobiles, boats and chainsaws, and crankcase oil for cars and trucks. They plan to sell the two-cycle oil to the public, and mass-distribute the crankcase oil to commercial and governmental fleets.
Recently a fleet of U.S. Postal Service vehicles in Michigan was used to test bio-oil for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The test found that delivery vehicles using bio-oil motor lubricant had significantly lower exhaust emissions, compared to petroleum-based lubricants. Also, hydrocarbon emissions in the vehicles were reduced by 37 percent and carbon monoxide was reduced by more than 20 percent.
In the short term, only a few jobs will be created locally, says Moe. But long-range plans involve satellite plants serving Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, which could translate into a large chunk of change for the Montana economy.
“The study should be done in July,” says Moe. “And we would like to start producing by next summer.”