Shipments of castor oil derivatives are flowing from India once again, easing availability of popular grease additives after supplies were constrained last month by a lockdown meant to combat Covid-19.
Industry sources said supply from India – the world’s dominant producer – are still constricted, but that the pandemic has also reduced demand.
“Shipments have resumed, and the situation has improved, although it has not yet returned to normal,” said Ujwala Khedekar, export executive with Royal Castor Products Ltd., a castor derivatives producer in Siddhapur, India.
The lubricants industry uses castor oil derivatives primarily to manufacture soap thickeners and also as extreme pressure agents in greases and other lubricants. India is the source of more than 80 percent of the world’s castor seeds, from which the oil is pressed, and a similar amount of derivatives, which are also used in other industries such as pharamaceuticals and personal care products. In the United States, for example, 95 percent of the castor oil derivatives used in grease production are imported from India, according to the U.S.-based Independent Lubricant Manufacturer’s Association.
Castor oil derivative exports from India came to a virtual standstill in early April because of actions taken by the Indian government to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The country’s castor oil producers and processors, most of which are located in the western state of Gujarat, stopped operating due to a lockdown order. In addition, shipments of existing material ceased because vessels were unavailable due to a mandate that incoming ships be quarantined and sanitized and because many people in positions such as dock workers, shipping agents and surveyors stayed away from their jobs.
Gujarat castor oil processors said they reopened April 20 under a government order allowing a variety of types of businesses to operate under restrictive conditions, and they added that availability of vessels for exports improved last week.
“We are operating again since April 20,” said Mehul Desai, general manager of Arvalli Castor Derivatives Pvt., which is based in the Gujarat city of Vadodara. “Our shipments are leaving port and are on schedule.”
Arvalli and Royal Castor both serve domestic and overseas customers, and both confirmed that orders have fallen to a fraction of normal levels.
The supply chain for castor oil derivatives is still constricted, according to ILMA CEO Holly Alfano. ILMA was one of three U.S. lubricant associations that petitioned India’s government last month to allow castor oil companies to operate.
“Inventory is being containerized, transported to the ports, and exported,” Alfano said Monday in an email to Lube Report. “Once the inventory has left the processing plants, the plants are shutting back down.
“The problem is between the farmers and the processing plants. The price of the castor beans has dropped, and the farmers are holding onto their crops. Labor also is an issue. In addition, the markets between the farmer and processing plants remain closed.”
Alfano added that ILMA, the National Lubricating Grease Institute and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers are continuing conversations with U.S. and India agencies to address any roadblocks that develop.
– George Gill contributed to this report