DOD Tests Environmentally Friendly Motor Oil

By Sarah Martin and Annie Reisewitz

The Department of Defense is taking action to be an environmental leader at defense facilities across the U.S.

Currently, the DOD, headed by the Defense Logistics Agency, is testing the use of biosynthetic motor oils on their non-tactical vehicle fleets. Several environmentally friendly lubricants companies have supplied bio-based motor oil to the DOD for demonstration projects across the U.S., including at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. With nearly 40% of pollution in waterways coming from used motor oil, this is welcome news to help advance a new technology that need wider acceptance by large motor oil consumers.

Every year 10 billion gallons of liquid petroleum hydrocarbon, in the form of motor oil and other industrial lubricants, are released into the environment due to human activity. The majority of this coming in the form of silent oil spills, leaks from cars, and improper disposal of used oil—all contributing to the degradation of our environment and our water supply.

Almost all of the motor oils on the market today are made from refined petroleum. For years, the use of biosynthetic oils has been promoted as an environmentally friendly alternative but was long thought of as a “wouldn’t that be nice” pie-in-the-sky idea that wouldn’t work on a large scale in part due to the difficulty of using vegetable oils in high heat conditions like automotive engines. However, recent scientific advancements, including by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have made this petroleum alternative dream very much a reality.

credit: John/Wikimedia Commons

If the tests by the DOD shows that biosynthetic oils perform just as well, if not better, than the current oil being used, the switch to biosynthetic oils may be made Air Force and possibly DOD wide for use in their fleet of 200,000 vehicles in the future.

Increased availability of bio-based lubricant fluids would provide product source diversity; create additional options for government and commercial users as well as the average consumer; reduce dependence on oil imports; and decrease pollution in rivers and oceans.

Environmental as well as usability performance has become important to consumers and regulators. Today, these motor oils and lubricants made from non-toxic, environmentally friendly plant-based oils can protect us, and our environment and they are comparable to or better than petroleum oil when it comes to performance.

In the past, environmentally friendly lubricants have faced performance questions. But extensive testing has proven that biosynthetic oils not only exceed the most challenging environmental standards but also provide performance benefits not attainable with petroleum-based products alone.

This is just the beginning. Other federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Law Enforcement Training School, are to begin testing biosynthetic oil later this year.

This large-scale change by the DOD would have widespread positive implications for our environment. While their testing will continue for the next 12-18 months there are steps that you can take to help reduce your environmental footprint. Ask your mechanic for a bio-based alternative the next time you go in for an oil change. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, just one gallon of motor oil can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water, so your small changes add up to a better environment.

About the authors:

Annie Reisewitz is a communications and marketing consultant for environmental and green technology initiatives. She manages the Silent Oil Spills public awareness campaign.

Sarah Martin has worked in environmental communications for the past several years. She works on the Silent Oil Spills campaign.


  1. Eco-worrier
    September 17, 12:29 am

    No no no! This is another biofuels type environmental disaster. Land take for production of this will hasten demise of natural world. The contamination in oil arises after its been in an engine – a different oil will contain similar contaminants so not a solution. Bring on the change to electric vehicles which don’t have a sump of filthy oil. Charged from renewables, of course.