How true is the claim that Palm Oil can be used to lubricate automobiles?

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On October 31, 2023, a Facebook user Gloryworldtv1 posted a 1 minute 17 seconds video claiming that palm oil can be used as lubricant for vehicles and motorcycles instead of the recommended oil.

And as of November 14, 2023, the video has garnered 1 million views, 13 thousand likes, and 14 thousand shares.

In the clip, a woman can be heard advising people to use palm oil as a lubricant for their vehicles and motorcycles. She however asked those using Benz not to use palm oil as it would only be suitable for Toyota cars and motorcycles. Viewers were also charged to share the video with others.

A cursory look at the comments beneath the video showed that while most people embraced the use of palm oil as an alternative, others feared what the effect of palm oil would be on their vehicles.

 

Full Text

A car comprises thousands of different moving parts, most of which are made of metal. There is inevitable friction and heat when one metal part moves against another. The heated parts will expand in size, and the friction will grow, resulting in greater wear and tear or the fusion or welding together of heated parts, thus, lubricating the car becomes essential.

Lubrication is the act of applying a substance such as oil or grease to an engine or component so as to minimize friction and allow smooth movement. The three major functions that lubricants perform are reducing friction, cooling and cleaning.

According to experts, the most common lubricants that cars use are:

Engine oil– Engine oil should be replaced every few thousand miles depending on the recommendation of your car manufacturer. The frequency for changing the engine oil could range from six months to one year, depending on the car’s model.

Transmission fluid – This fluid lubricates the components of the transmission for optimum performance. The transmission fluid in cars with automatic transmission also serves as a coolant. It is typically colored red or green to distinguish it from the other lubricants.

Grease – For the other parts of the car that are not lubricated by oil or fluids, grease is commonly used. The application of grease to moving car parts can help minimize the squeaks and groans that one typically hears from inside the car.

So, can palm oil be used as an alternative to engine oil as a lubricant?

 

CLAIM

A Facebook user (Gloryworldtv1) claimed that palm oil can be used as a lubricant for vehicles and motorcycles.

 

THE FINDINGS

Checks by The FactCheckHub show that the claim is MISLEADING.

According to research in the  Chinese Journal of Engineering 2014, the formulated blends of palm oil show similar properties compared to commercial SAE 20W40 oil in terms of mechanical efficiency, brake thermal efficiency, and brake-specific fuel consumption (BSFC). The engine performance and fuel consumption for both lubricants showed no appreciable difference.

The study revealed that by using blends of 25% palm oil the NOx emission levels are reduced as compared to mineral oil. This simply means that the use of palm oil should not exceed 25 percent of the lubricating blend.

Another research by the World Journal of Advanced Research and Reviews 2023 states that there is potential in the exploration of palm oil as a lubricant because of the positive environmental impact of vegetable oils. However, the review adds that further study is required in the enhancement of palm oil bio-lubricants for future substitution of the non-degradable toxic mineral-based lubricants.

The study adds that palm oil has gained sufficient attention in the research to confirm its usage for machine lubrication, but some limitations to this development are its loss of friction-bearing capacity and susceptibility to shear at moderate thermal conditions. This calls for further investigation into the ways to further improve its properties to be adequately suited for machine lubrication.

Screenshot of how oil flows through an engine Photo Credits: 2007 Encyclopedia Britanica, Inc.

An associate professor of Industrial and Production Engineering at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Professor Olayinka Awopetu, said the Nigerians should ignore the claim adding that it is only possible when the oil has been tampered with.

“It is not possible because the temperature palm oil will burn is so low that when it gets to the engine, it is not oil that gets to the engine but powder and powder can not lubricate, so that can not work. Unless it is another palm oil that they have done to make it synthetic, but if it is the one used in cooking then it can’t work,” Professor Awopetu said.

Similarly, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Professor Emmanuel Bello, said palm oil has different properties from engine oil thereby making it unsuitable as a lubricant for automobiles.

He said, “I doubt it can be successful – For emergencies, it can work but for long-term usage, it cannot work very well because palm oil has different properties from engine oil. For example, it contains water, it oxidizes easily, and at low temperatures, it will freeze and turn to solid, which cannot work in an engine. It is not suitable for use as an engine oil for motorcycles and vehicles.”

Professor Bello added that palm oil should only be used as a lubricant in cases of emergency but added that it is not suitable for continuous use as it could clog the flow of oil in the engine.

On his part, the Head of Department, Mechanical Engineering at the Federal University of Oye-Ekiti, Dr Bayode Olorunfemi said palm oil can be used to lubricate automobiles but advised against its use because concerned authorities have not regulated its usage adding that this could be disastrous in the long run.

 

THE VERDICT

The claim that palm oil can be used as a lubricant for vehicles and motorcycles is MISLEADING; as findings revealed that while it can be used in emergency cases, experts warn that the continuous usage of palm oil could clog the automobile engine.

 

* This fact-check was written by Funmilola Afolabi, a fellow of the ICIR’s Countering Misinformation and Promoting Media Literacy project, supported by the German Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria.

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