German industrial giants Fuchs Petrolub and BASF carried out a joint study on the cradle-to-grave environmental impact of mineral oil hydraulic fluids, opening the door to further investigation of synthetic hydraulic fluid products.
Hydraulic fluids account for about 7 percent of the world’s total finished lubricant sales, according to Lubes’n’Greases’ data, and are used by vehicles and machinery across a wide spectrum of economic sectors and industries. Many hydraulic fluids are produced using a mineral base stock derived from crude oil. Climate scientists closely associate hydrocarbons extraction with man-made climate change caused by too much carbon in the atmosphere.
BASF devised the study’s methodology, which it calls eco-efficiency analysis, and based it on ISO 14040, with the goal of assisting evaluation of sustainable product and process alternatives, from the research and development phase as well as customer process and product optimization. ISO 14000 is a set of rules and standards to help companies reduce industrial waste and environmental damage.
The analysis examined the lifecycle of certain fluids to assess their full economic and environmental impact, from the sourcing of the raw materials, through to production, the use phase and ultimately disposal. It is the first time the two companies made such an assessment that compared cradle-to-grave with cradle-to-gate, which analyzes a product’s impact up to the point of delivery to the user.
The companies found that the use of a premium high-performance multigrade hydraulic oil over a lesser-quality monograde fluid offers better diesel fuel efficiency during the use phase.
This translates into a lower environmental impact over the product’s entire lifecycle, as well as lower costs, the companies claimed in the analysis.
“With this study we are jointly pioneering the assessment of sustainability aspects within the lubricant industry,” Lutz Lindemann, Fuchs’ chief technology officer, said in a press release.
The companies believe that this type of study can be used to assess biodegradable ester-based hydraulic fluids, which have higher shear-stable viscosity indices, compared to mineral oil-based fluids, leading to lower friction and therefore greater fuel efficiency.
Based in Mannheim, Germany, Fuchs Petrolub is the world’s largest independent lubricant manufacturer. It started a sustainability initiative 10 years ago, and as of January this year had offset carbon production from its 58 production facilities around the world with a range of mitigating investments. Global chemicals company BASF, headquartered on the other side of the Rhine from Fuchs, began incorporating sustainability into its business practices in 1994.