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- Biodegradable Lubricants: The Advantages and Disadvantages
What are Biodegradable Lubricants?
Biodegradable lubricants, also known as environmentally friendly lubricants (EFLs), are lubricants that are designed to be more easily broken down by natural processes. They are often used in applications where there is a risk of lubricant leakage or spillage into the environment, such as forestry, agriculture, marine, and construction.
Biodegradable lubricants can be made from different types of base fluids, depending on their performance requirements and environmental compatibility. Some of the common base fluids are:
- Vegetable oils: These are derived from plant sources such as rapeseed, sunflower, soybean, and palm. They have good lubricity, biodegradability, and renewability, but they also have some drawbacks such as poor oxidation stability, low-temperature performance, and compatibility with seals and additives.
- Synthetic esters: These are man-made chemicals that are synthesized from organic acids and alcohols. They have excellent biodegradability, oxidation stability, and low-temperature performance, but they are more expensive and may require special additives to improve their lubricity and corrosion protection.
- Synthetic hydrocarbons: These are also man-made chemicals that are similar to mineral oils but have higher molecular weight and branching. They have good biodegradability, thermal stability, and compatibility with seals and additives, but they are also more expensive and may have lower lubricity than mineral oils.
- White oils: These are highly refined mineral oils that have low sulfur and aromatic content. They have moderate biodegradability, low toxicity, and good compatibility with seals and additives, but they have lower performance than synthetic base fluids in terms of oxidation stability, low-temperature performance, and viscosity index.
Advantages of Biodegradable Lubricants
Biodegradable lubricants, just like conventional lubricants reduce friction and wear between moving parts. However, many customers now prefer them due to having some advantages such as:
- Being environmentally friendly and reduce the risk of soil and water pollution.
- Having a lower toxicity and flammability, which improves the safety of workers and users.
- Having a higher biostability and resistance to oxidation, which extends their service life and reduces maintenance costs.
- Offering a better lubricity and performance at low temperatures, which enhances the efficiency and reliability of machines.
Why are they not as popular?
As more people think about saving the environment and shifting to ecofirendly alternatives, you woul think that biodegradable lubricants would be a trend right not, however the reality is quite different as they remain less prevalent than conventional lubricants in the market.
Exploring the Biodegradable Lubricants
- Price: They are more expensive than conventional lubricants, which increases the initial investment and operating costs.
- Application: They have a lower viscosity index and thermal stability, which limits their application in high-temperature and high-pressure conditions.
- Storage stability: They have a higher pour point and cloud point, which affects their fluidity and storage stability.
- Compatibility: They may be incompatible with some metals and seals, which may cause corrosion or leakage.
Regardless of what happens today they may have better results in the future as they continue to become more popular due to a growing awareness of environmental issues and the introduction of strict legislation. The shift towards plant-based feedstocks, such as canola, soy or sunflower oils, is also creating opportunities for vendors, while the mining industry is seeking more sustainable lubricants.
These factors are affecting the demand for biodegradable lubricants, which are seen as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional lubricants.
How to choose Biodegradable lubricants?
Biodegradable lubricants are a great choice for anyone who cares about the environment and wants to reduce their impact on the planet. Biodegradable lubricants are made from natural or synthetic materials that can break down easily and safely in the environment, without leaving harmful residues or pollutants.
They can be used for various applications, such as automotive, industrial, marine, agricultural, and personal care.
- Identify your needs: Consider the specific application and requirements for the lubricant. This may include factors such as temperature range, load-carrying capacity, oxidation stability, and viscosity.
- Determine biodegradability: Look for lubricants with a high biodegradation rate (at least 60% within 28 days). This information should be available on the product data sheet or label. Common biodegradable lubricants include vegetable oil-based, synthetic ester-based, and polyalkylene glycol-based (PAG) lubricants.
- Check environmental certifications: Look for products with certifications from reputable organizations such as Blue Angel, European Ecolabel, or USDA BioPreferred. These certifications indicate that the lubricant meets specific environmental and performance criteria.
- Evaluate performance: Biodegradable lubricants should have comparable performance to conventional lubricants in terms of wear protection, corrosion resistance, and overall stability. Check for relevant performance test data or case studies that demonstrate the lubricant’s effectiveness in your specific application.
- Assess compatibility: Ensure that the biodegradable lubricant is compatible with your existing equipment and materials, such as seals, hoses, and gaskets. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations to avoid any potential issues.
- Compare costs: While biodegradable lubricants may have a higher initial cost, they can provide long-term savings in terms of reduced disposal costs, fewer regulatory requirements, and lower environmental impact. Compare the total cost of ownership between different products to find the best value.
- Consult with experts: Reach out to lubricant manufacturers, distributors, or industry experts to discuss your specific needs and get recommendations for suitable biodegradable lubricants.
- Trial and monitoring: Before fully committing to a new lubricant, consider conducting a trial in your application to evaluate performance, compatibility, and overall satisfaction. Monitor equipment and lubricant condition regularly to ensure optimal performance and to address any potential issues early on.