Grease Output Rises 13%


Global lubricating grease production in 2010 surpassed 2.3 billion pounds, which is back to the same levels as 2007 and a 13 percent gain over 2009, according to the newly published NLGI Grease Production Survey Report.

China, which reported making a total 897 million pounds of grease in 2010, or 39 percent of global output, is the undisputed heavyweight champion of grease manufacturing, the report shows. Second place goes to North America’s 455 million pounds.

“The 2010 survey shows that in North America, Japan and China, grease production went up from 2009, while European production softened somewhat and the rest of the world was essentially flat,” Paul Grives told the National Lubricating Grease Institute’s 78th Annual Meeting in Palm Springs, Calif., on June 14. Grives, global strategic team leader for grease at ExxonMobil Lubricants and Specialties in Fairfax, Va., heads the NLGI Grease Production Survey Committee.

“One hundred sixty-one companies reported data on 195 plants this year,” Grives told meeting attendees. “Remember, the data is given voluntarily by the participants, and there is some variance in the participation every year. But overall, it does provide a good picture of grease production.”

He also emphasized that the survey replies are “100 percent confidential, with no disclosure of individual company data.” The 2010 survey was conducted by the consulting firm Grease Technology Solutions LLC in Manassas, Va.

As in prior years, the report shows grease manufacturing activity by geographic zone and by thickener type for the study year and three prior years. “Data on thickener type can be useful to see what’s up, what’s down, and it maybe suggests what end-use industries are changing,” Grives pointed out.

Calcium thickened greases, for example, are the second most popular type, at 10 percent of the total, and considered to be a bellwether of general industrial activity. “Worldwide, we saw a 63 percent increase reported in anhydrous calcium grease production,” Grives said, “and it was up more than 100 percent in China.”

Another big thickener winner, he added, was calcium sulfonate greases, up a reported 24 percent in 2010, to 33 million pounds produced worldwide.

The fastest growth for any thickener type, Grives continued, “was polyurea greases, which went up 32 percent in production volume. Japan leads the world in polyurea grease production, followed by China and North America. Total global output for this grease type was 118 million pounds in 2010, versus 90 million pounds a year earlier.”

Not surprisingly though, lithium and lithium complex greases continue to dominate the world’s markets. Together, they comprised three-quarters of total reported production in 2010, or 1.74 billion pounds. About 23 percent of this volume was lithium complex greases, the report indicates.

In a new wrinkle, the 2010 survey asked manufacturers what types of base oils they use in their greases — mineral oil, synthetic, semi-synthetic or biobased. About 69 percent of all respondents (representing 1.45 billion pounds of production) provided a breakdown of their base oil usage, but participation varied widely from region to region, Grives noted. Over 90 percent of responses from China included this data, for example, while none from Japan did. Almost 70 percent of the North America respondents reported their base oil content.

On a global basis, the answers revealed that conventional mineral oil accounted for 93 percent of grease supply, while synthetics and semi-synthetics each could claim about 3 percent. Less than 1 percent was biobased.

Regionally, the differences are more pronounced. North American respondents to this question said over 15 percent of their 2010 production was synthetic or semi-synthetic, for example, while grease makers in India had conventional stocks in 99.9 percent of their output. Chinas producers said they used virtually zero biobased stock, while Europeans said biobased accounted for about 3 percent of their greases.

As in prior years, the NLGI report offers some comparative data which covers only companies which have reported their production volumes every year. This erases the variability due to the changing field of participants each year, and can help pinpoint grease manufacturing trends. The comparative data confirms that 2010 global output surpassed that of the three prior years, but suggests that the recovery was not shared equally in every region.

All NLGI member companies received a copy of the 2010 Grease Production Survey Report last week. Additional copies of the 30-page document may be ordered through the NLGI website, Cost is $75 for members, $175 for nonmembers.

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