Understanding and Choosing Environmentally-Friendly Lubricants

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Across many industries, there is a high demand for products that lessen the environmental impact of business processes. Especially in industries that rely on fasteners, there is a growing interest in environmentally friendly lubricants. The original introduction of the products date back to the 1980s, followed by high developmental momentum in the 1990s with innovations by Mobil Oil, John Deere, and Caterpillar. These hydraulic oils were derived from high-oleic sunflower oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.

Depending on geographic region, different priorities are driving the invention of environmentally-friendly lubricants. In the US, companies are looking to replace traditional mineral oils. In Europe, the priority is placed on the biodegradable properties of lubricants, even if they are petroleum-based. Because of the difference in source oils, there is often confusion between different types of lubricants. Let’s explore the difference between biobased, biodegradable, and bio-preferred lubricants.

Biobased lubricants are made of renewable hydrocarbons, typically derived from plant oils or animal fats. In these types of lubricants, carbon dating is used to determine the concentration of biobased oils versus how much is from petroleum or other fossilized hydrocarbons.

Biodegradable lubricants can be broken down by standard bacteria in a controlled environment. There are various tests designed to test biodegradability, such as the OECD 301 series of tests. In these tests, biodegradable lubricants can break down by at least 60% in a 28-day period. These tests also ensure that lubricants are being accurately marketed as biodegradable to reduce confusion.

Bio-preferred lubricants have been designed through a USDA-run program. The bio-preferred programs aim to increase the use of renewable products. For products to be designated as bio-preferred, they must meet certain levels of biobased components.

Similarly, there tends to be confusion surrounding the term “sustainability.” Generally speaking, it means that a particular process avoids the depletion of natural resources. For lubricants, regardless of the source material, a full lifecycle analysis is required to understand if the product is actually sustainable. Opting for sustainable alternatives to traditional lubricants can also have functional benefits as well. For example, vegetable oil-based lubricants have superior lubricity because dipolar properties form a strong bond with metal surfaces.

Understanding the subtle differences between these types of lubricants can help you identify which is most suitable for use with your fasteners. But, if you still aren’t sure which lubricants are the right choice, contact the knowledgeable team at Electronic Fasteners.