Europe reported slightly lower grease production in 2019, according to a survey conducted by the United States-based National Lubricating Grease Institute.
Reported volumes dropped by 6.4%, though about 4.5% of the decline from 2018 was due to participant dropout, wrote Chuck Coe, president of Grease Technology Solutions, the independent research and consulting firm that conducts the survey on behalf of NLGI.
Coe cautions readers about comparing current data directly to earlier years, as participants can change from year to year. For Europe and some other regions, however, the report does include comparative data showing changes in combined production by companies that have participated in each survey year.
Forty-seven companies in Europe reported producing 488 million pounds of grease last year. Comparative data shows a drop of 1.8% from 2018.
Global reported production was 2.7 billion pounds in 2019, an increase of just 0.18% or 4.7 million pounds. Comparative data indicates an increase of almost 1.8%.
As with the rest of the world, lithium soaps remain the thickener of choice in Europe, accounting for 69% of all production. Calcium soaps are next at 15%, followed by aluminum soaps and polyurea at 5% each. Other thickeners combined to account for 5.5%.
Lithium-thickened grease is slowly losing market share globally, dropping from close to 76% in 2016 to 70% in 2019. Calcium soaps have taken up most of the slack, growing from 10% in 2016 to 15% in 2019. In Europe, however, lithium greases have dropped just 1.3% since 2016.
Calcium greases seem to have scooped up nearly all of that volume, increasing 1.2%.
Prices for lithium hydroxide rose in recent years thanks to steep demand for lithium-ion batteries in electronic devices and electric vehicles, though producers saw a reprieve at the end of 2019 due to a significant increase in supply volumes.
Eighty-three percent of Europe’s greases are made with conventional base fluids, but volumes have decreased from nearly 87% in 2016. Synthetics account for nearly 10%, up from almost 8% in 2016, and semi-synthetics have held steady at just over 3%.
“I believe the gain in synthetic share is due to the same forces at work globally: better performance in more demanding applications,” Coe said.
Biobased fluids are used in 3.7% of the region’s greases, with volumes increasing steadily since 2016. “Europe is by far and away the leading region in use of biobased base fluids, and has been since we began tracking base oil usage in 2010. They seem to have more of a focus on the environment and safety than the rest of the world,” he commented.
Looking ahead, Coe anticipates next year’s survey will clearly show the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the grease industry. “Based on the difficulty getting responses this year for the 2019 survey and the declines in demand noted in many industry articles this year, I expect to see a significant decline in production for the 2020 survey.”
Released in late June, the full 30-page report of 2019 grease production includes data going back to 2016 and is available for download at www.nlgi.org. 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.