Bio-Based Lubricants Who-is-Who in Biobased Lubricants? New Cooperations Grease the Bioeconomy

Author / Editor: Dr. Kathrin Rübberdt* / Dr. Jörg Kempf

Imagine you are a producer of lubricants, and you want to go biobased … The market is there, for sure, because many applications — from the chain saw in the forest to the wind power generator in the Wadden Sea — require biodegradable lubricants — a feature that can easily be achieved with biobased source materials.

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Conventional vs. biobased way to produce lubricants: The success of biobased products lies in identifying the partners and bringing them together.
Conventional vs. biobased way to produce lubricants: The success of biobased products lies in identifying the partners and bringing them together.
(Source: PROCESS/[M]GötzelHorn)

The market is there, for sure, because many applications — from the chain saw in the forest to the wind power generator in the Wadden Sea — require biodegradable lubricants — a feature that can easily be achieved with biobased source materials.

The technical requirements are no obstacle: German lubricant producer Fuchs Petrolub estimates that from a technical point of view, about 90 % of all lubricants could be replaced by biobased products. Apart from a lack of knowledge and some consumer mistrust to the “natural” alternatives, the higher prices — up to twice or three times that of mineral-oil based lubricants — present the main hurdle that keeps buyers from switching from fossil to bio.

On the other hand, the German “Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe” has calculated that the savings due to a longer operating life of biolubricants more than compensate the higher initial price.

Looking for New Suppliers

So now you have to go looking for new suppliers. Conventional base oils come either directly out of the petrochemical refinery or are chemically processed to obtain the desired properties such as a specific viscosity, low sulfur content or thermostability. The lubricant producer processes the base oil and formulates it with about 15 % up to 30 % of additives; these are often pre-formulated by additive suppliers that buy the ingredients from chemical companies.

A lubricant may contain up to 20 substances; the formulations are mostly proprietary information and well-guarded trade secrets. The formulators usually sell directly to distributors and end-users.

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