Three lubricant industry associations in the United States petitioned India’s government last week to approve the export of castor oil derivatives stuck at India ports as part of a national lockdown to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Local authorities and various state governments in India issued directives in March to shut down factories and offices as well as public transport for a period of time to prevent the spread of the disease. The castor oil derivatives are held up in ports in Mumbai and the state of Gujarat on the western coast of India, according to an April 2 letter to the India embassy in the U.S. from the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association, the National Lubricating Grease Institute and the Society of Tribology and Lubrication Engineers.
Castor oil comes from castor beans fatty oil, which is extracted through pressing, then followed by solvent extraction. Castor oil and its derivatives are used as a raw material in chemicals used in the manufacturing of greases, lubricants and surfactants. One India-based castor oil manufacturer, Jayant Agro-Organics Ltd., said in a March 23 announcement, “In view of the lock down in many of the states across the country, the operations in most of our facilities shall remain shut and most employees have been instructed to stay at their home until further directives are issued by authorities.”
“Our members’ current inventories of castor oil derivatives, along with pending imports from India, will determine how long they can continue producing greases necessary for critical infrastructure sectors during the current Covid-19 pandemic,” the industry groups said. “Based on estimates from our members, a 45- to 60-day supply of finished greases currently exists in retail and industrial channels. Under the best scenario, backlogs of shipments of castor oil derivatives from Indian ports mean that needed castor oil derivatives likely will not land in the United States at the earliest, until late May or early June, meaning that supply chain disruptions to the critical infrastructure sectors will occur.”
The groups said they also requested the U.S. government work with the Indian government to permit the immediate shipment of the castor oil derivatives temporarily stored at Indian ports while the reopening of the Indian castor industry is under consideration. The U.S. Commerce Department responded to the letter, ILMA CEO Holly Alfano told Lube Report on Tuesday. “They put us in touch with someone in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi,” Alfano said. “We have been sending them additional information that they requested. Our hope is they can appeal to the Indian government to reopen castor production, and that the ports will be able to deal quickly with backlogs.”
The associations noted in the letter that NLGI has an active chapter in India, and that it has requested special dispensation for the Ministry of Home Affairs for the Indian grease industry to continue to serve Indian and global supply chains. India is the largest producer of castor seeds, accounts for more than 80 percent of global castor oil production and makes more than 95 percent of the castor oil derivatives used by the associations’ members in manufacturing greases. “Annual U.S. consumption of castor oil derivatives for grease production is about 40 million pounds, with our industrial sector representing 23 percent of overall castor use,” the groups said.
While acknowledging India’s need to mitigate and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, the associations noted that the sustained shutdown of India’s castor industry will interrupt grease supplies that are needed by global critical infrastructure sectors. They cited several examples of how interruptions in grease supplies will impact U.S. and global critical infrastructure sectors, including applications in the medical field, agriculture, food processing, rail and highway transportation and in a variety of vehicles and aircraft used by military forces.