Friday, November 16, 2007

Europe and Biodegradable Lubes

Lubes and Greases North America covers the emerging European standard for biodegradable and biobased lubes. If you are curious about why biobased lubes aren't tearing up the marketplace like biofuels are the standardization issues of Europe lay some of it out for you. (See page 38 for the start of the article)

As many in the US consider biobased lubes as a potential growth opportunity for the biofuel industry these off the beaten path trade information sources become more an more valuable. Usually the only sources of information about these emerging technologies are found from those making the products and of course the claims about them.

From my understanding biobased lubes stand the best market development placement as one of two things. Hydraulic fluids or heat transfer oils. Lubricating oils require some pretty noxious chemicals and heavy metals to make them function as lubricants in especially in extreme environments (such as a windmill gear box).

So in essence you would be creating hazardous waste (even though the base stock would by biobased) and you would be substantially increasing the service requirements of the equipment. Take for instance gear box applications. With full synthetic petroleum based lubes you have extremely long drain intervals. Especially for remote equipment that is expensive and energy intensive to service. The inconsistency of on road vehicle engines also make the passenger car market also a poor place for biobased lubes.

The easy to reach markets for biobased lubes is in near water applications. Interestingly enough most industrial operations near rivers and water are hydraulic in nature. Moving containers off of ships being the most prominent industrial activity. Biobased lubes being a superior hydraulic fluid in this case.

When looking at biobased lubes look at the application not the market. Common sense goes along way in examining the higher value products of the petroleum world and where biobased substitutes can easily cross over.

Special Note: Please do not confuse biobased lubes with biodegradable lubes. There is a difference. There are petroleum based synthetics that are readily biodegradable on a comparable level with biobased products. These have a much longer track record with performance levels similar to non-biodegradable counterparts. These biodegradable products also have a long track record of comparable performance along no biodegradable lubes.

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