Biobased Lubricants: A Road to the New Future

Vegetable oils and animal fats are being used for lubrication purposes for many years. However, with the advent of petroleum along with availability of inexpensive oils, alternatives turned out to be unattractive and were left by the wayside. The attention was relocated on vegetable oils during wartime and oil shortage situations. For instance, during World War I and World War II, the use of vegetable oils for fuel, lubricants, greases and energy transfer augmented quickly. Also, the oil embargo of 1973 brought needed attention to alternatives for petroleum oils. Over the past two decades, a rehabilitated awareness in vegetable oil-based lubricants has occurred as environmental concern has increased. Various major manufacturers are shifting their focus towards biobased products. For instance, Mobil Corporation launched its Environmental Awareness Lubricants (EAL) line of hydraulic fluids. Also, The Lubrizol Corporation developed considerable quantities of additives and sunflower oil-based lubricants. In Europe, environmental directives have extended the use of these products. However, in the U.S., lack of regulatory mandates coupled with higher prices have hindered the growth in usage. Price is a major restricting factor for bio lubricants. However, the development of enhanced and naturally more stable oilseeds is reducing prices of some of these lubricants.

The soybean market has the substructure to meet quality and quantity necessities for the lubricant industry. Various products commercially available from soybean oils include: tractor transmission hydraulic fluid, industrial hydraulic fluids for process and machinery applications, food-grade hydraulic fluids and greases, greases for use in automotive, railroad and machinery applications, industrial gear lubes, compressor oil, and many more. The improved lubricity provides better tool life and surface finish. There are various benefits of biobased oils including the gear boxes oils, wire rope lubricants and greases for bearings. The major benefit of the superior lubricity of bio based lubricants is the reduction in the energy consumption by about 7 to 15%. Reduction in wear and friction results in obvious increased life of the equipment. Owing to numerous benefits of bio lubricants, they are likely to be predominantly used in applications where environmental and safety concerns are high. Whereas, these oils will be less prevalent at places where petroleum products offer price and performance beyond those possible by biobased products.