As the world watches the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico go from bad to worse, people are asking whether there isn't another solution to petroleum-based oils. Geeks and engineers know the answer is, "Sure." As early as 1911, Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the eponymous compression-ignition engine, developed engines to run on peanut and vegetable oils. For a variety of economic reasons, however, vegetable oils didn't become a commercial success. But perhaps it is time for natural oil products to become relevant again.

To this end, a company called Green Earth Technologies (GET) recently released a line of "green" engine oils. The new G-Oil meets the American Petroleum Institute's "SM" certification, the toughest standard to meet based on wear protection and low-temperature performance. The in-engine performance of the G-Oil is even robust enough for it to be the Official Motor Oil of The American Le Mans Series.

G-Oil isn't plant-based, but made mainly from beef tallow, though it does contain a small percentage of plant oils. Tallow is what's left over after a cow has been processed into food and other products. This fat is typically used for a variety of consumer goods like soap.

GET acquires tallow from U.S. sources and runs it through a proprietary process. The outcome of the refining and a high-performance additive package gives the G-Oil the lubricating qualities of a full synthetic product like Mobil 1.

Unlike conventional oils, GET's oil is fully biodegradable. Technically, this means that the G-Oil is easily absorbed (eaten) by microorganisms. The company claims that 95-percent of any spilled G-Oil degrades in as few as nine days, beating the measured performance of ASTM standard for "biodegradability" of 60-percent in 28 days by a comfortable margin.

Wouldn't it be nice if the problem in the Gulf could be solved as quickly?


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