Clean and Green: The Future of Environmentally Friendly Lubricants

Recently we celebrated Earth Day which focused on accelerating solutions to combat climate change and activating everyone from businesses, governments and citizens to do their part in the preservation of our planet.

Today, we would like to have a closer look into the sustainable development in the lubricants industry.

Why are lubricants needed

Lubricants are used within many industries, they keep the world and vital equipment functioning. They act as a microfilm layer between moving parts, helping to protect equipment, and reduce damage and increase durability over time. Lubricating oil reduces friction, overheating, scuffing, rubbing, and corrosion due to its special properties. 

Although the lubricants industry has long been intertwined with the petroleum business, lubricants can get tainted with an environmentally damaging reputation. By preserving all types of machines from energy loss due to friction, lubricants are a source of efficiency and environmental improvement.. The role of properly used lubricants is evident in many recent studies that show that approximately 23% of all energy produced worldwide is spent on friction and wear in machinery. 

Moreover, in lubricated systems, greater efficiency further lowers the lubricant’s operating temperatures and can decrease its oxidation rate over time, allowing for potentially longer maintenance intervals. The accumulation of these efficiency gains means that the development and implementation of efficient and reliable equipment has, and will play in the coming years, a leading role in terms of reducing CO2 emissions.

We need lubricants to keep the world moving, increase the reliability and efficiency of machinery, and decrease CO2 emissions.

Increasing demand for more sustainable products

Consumers are increasingly looking for businesses to take responsibility for environmental issues such as climate change. Additionally, environmental regulations hold businesses accountable for environmental damage to natural habitats, protected species, land or water. The momentum to create a sustainable world is everywhere, and it shows few signs of slowing down.

To comply with increased government regulations and address the overall environmental awareness of consumers, more organisations are trying to use products with lower environmental impacts. At the same time, the technological advancements highlight a greater need to increase the energy efficiency of machines, also meaning a need for improved, high-quality lubricants.

While many different classes of products can be covered under this category, bio-lubricants are an increasingly important product category for sustainability initiatives. Using biodegradable products, allows consumers to be at ease when buying a product, knowing that waste from these products is biodegradable and not harming the planet, without any negative impact on application performance. 

Sustainable Alternatives to Lubricants

There are now more alternatives to petroleum oil, with a range of natural or synthetic base oils available. The sustainable options are also known as Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EAL’s). These substances are often made from low molecular weight polyalphaolefin, polyalkylene glycol, synthetic esters, and vegetable oils. Reportedly, ester-based oils are the most common environmentally accepted lubricant in the markets, due to their non-toxicity and effective biodegradation. 

While there is no universally accepted definition for environmental safety, factors like biodegradability, eco-toxicity, bio-accumulations and renewability must be taken into consideration when accounting for the safety of the environment. 

Theoretically, an environmentally safe lubricant is one that degrades quickly and naturally with non-toxic decomposed fractions and that is based on renewable sources. These lubricants must be formulated with renewable/vegetable oils in the majority, readily biodegradable and free from heavy metals and other toxic ingredients/by-products.

The future of environmentally friendly lubricants

The growing importance of sustainable development has guided all organisations within the lubricants industry to develop more sustainable products. The expectation for these high-performance substances is to be efficient and less environmentally damaging when emitted into the surrounding environment. With the growing interest in the impact of lubricating oils on the environment and health, it is important for technology, research & development, and product management teams across the board to emphasise the innovations of fully biodegradable, lubricating oils made up of natural ingredients.

References and Further Reading

Koehler Instrument Company, Inc. Sliding into the World of Bio-greases
Available at: https://koehlerinstrument.com/sliding-into-the-world-of-bio-greases/

Lubes’N’Greases. Developing Industrial Lubricants Sustainably 
Available at: https://www.lubesngreases.com/magazine/27_11/developing-industrial-lubricants-sustainably/

Biomassmagazine.com. Can Lubricants be Green? 
Available at: http://www.biomassmagazine.com/articles/17390/can-lubricants-be-green.

Machinery Lubrication. What You Should Know About Environmentally Friendly Lubricants
Available at: https://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/29229/environmentally-friendly-lubricants.

K. Holmberg and A. Erdemir. Influence of tribology on global energy consumption, costs and emissions
Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40544-017-0183-5.