Giving a Bean about the Environment

An unlikely, and environmentally friendly, railroad track lubricant made from soybeans is now in use on Norfolk Southern Railway.

A biodegradable soybean oil-based grease is being used as an alternative to petroleum-based grease for lubricating rails to reduce rail side wear and wheel flange wear in curves.

"Soybean grease is better for the environment, competitively priced and very effective," said John M. Samuels, senior vice president of operations planning and support at Norfolk Southern. "It can increase the life of rail on curves substantially."

Norfolk Southern's Research and Test Department in Roanoke, Va., and the University of Northern Iowa's Ag-Based Industrial Lubricants Research Program, invested three years of laboratory and rail environment site research to ensure that the grease's performance met the demanding requirements of freight railroads. The research was done in partnership with Portec Rail Products Inc., exclusive distributor of SoyTrak, which is formulated from U.S.-grown soybean oils and additives. SoyTrak is produced by Environmental Lubricants Manufacturing in Waverly, Iowa.

"Norfolk Southern's approval, after extensive research, including tests at the Association of American Railroads' Transportation Technology Center, gives new credibility to bio-based products," said Lou Honary, UNI professor and director of the university's lubricants research program.

Summer- and winter-grade blends are in use, and an all-season blend is being developed. "SoyTrak decomposes through natural processes in a matter of weeks after application, so it's beneficial for the environment," said Don Cregger, Norfolk Southern's manager project engineering. "It's more efficient than petroleum grease in reducing wear through its greater durability and capacity for reducing friction."

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