North America’s Grease Production Rebounds

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North America’s Grease Production Rebounds
Synthetic lithium complex grease that is used for automotive and industrial applications. © sasirin pamai

Lubricating grease production in North America rose 9% in 2021, according to the National Lubricating Grease Institute’s latest annual survey. Production of greases made with aluminum soap, calcium soap and lithium soap were all up from 2020 volumes.

The increase is based on comparative data for consistently reporting companies in North America. Officials with the United States-based NLGI have explained that grand totals should not be used for year-to-year comparisons of data because the pool of reporting companies can shift.

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Reported worldwide grease production from 263 plants that participated in the survey was up 5% higher at 2.6 billion pounds in 2021. “Clearly, worldwide grease production has begun to recover from the COVID impact in 2020,” Chuck Coe wrote in the cover letter to the survey report. Coe is president of Grease Technology Solutions LLC, the independent research and consulting firm that conducts the survey on behalf of NLGI.

The 48 North American grease plants that participated in the survey produced about 374 million pounds of grease last year, or 14% of the global total of 2.6 billion pounds.

Greases made with conventional lithium soap thickener accounted for 21% of North American output in 2021, up from 20% in 2020. Grease made with lithium complex soap thickeners constituted 44% of the region’s demand in 2021, up from 43% in 2020.

Calcium soap grease production accounted for 16% of the region’s grease production last year, up from 15%. The portion made with aluminum soap thickeners increased from 8% to 9%, while the portion of polyurea greases was again 4%.

In the Caribbean, Central and South America, 13 grease plants participating in the survey produced 80.7 million pounds of grease in 2021, accounting for 3% of 2.6 billion pounds of global production. Comparative data was unavailable for the region.

Greases made with conventional lithium soap thickener constituted 82% of the region’s grease production last year, while lithium complex soap thickeners, calcium soap thickeners, sodium soap thickeners were used in 14%, 3% and 1%, respectively.

The survey also compiled grease production data by base oil type. Coe explained that while global base oil data shows a continuing trend toward use of synthetic and biobased base stocks, the growth appears to be slowing in North America. Among the 341.3 million pounds of grease in North America for which base fluids type was reported, 80% were conventional, 13% were synthetic, 6% were semi-synthetic and 1% was biobased fluids.

In the Caribbean, Central and South America, among the region’s 80.7 million pounds of grease reported by base fluid type, nearly 100% used conventional base fluids. Only 0.1% were semi-synthetic and less than 0.1% were synthetic base fluid. Participants only reported using 869 pounds of biobased fluids last year.

The full 30-page report of 2021 grease production includes prior year data going back to 2018 and is available to download at the NLGI website. NLGI member companies can obtain a free copy, and nonmembers may purchase the report, which contains data categorized by geographic region, thickener type, base oil type and year.