Africa Ponders Biolubes Potential


An official from a biobased lubricants supplier expressed optimism for the potential growth of such products in Africa – especially in agriculture and industry – at a conference in Johannesburg, though local blenders were pessimistic.

Speaking at the ICIS Africa Base Oils and Lubricant Conference, Suri Chetty, director of business development for Unichem South Africa, said Africa is 10 years behind global trends in biobased lubricants. He estimated global biobased lubricants consumption at 600,000 metric tons in 2014, with Europe and the United States accounting for a combined 85 percent of that demand.

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Chetty predicted global demand will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6 percent per year from this year to close to 800,000 tons per year by 2020. By that time, biobased lubricants is expected to be a $3 billion industry, he added. Seventy-five percent of biobased lubricants are based on vegetable oils – soybean, castor and palm. Industrial processes account for just over 50 percent of biolubricants consumed.

Absolutely, I think Africa is ripe for biolubes, Chetty told Lube Report on the sidelines of the conference.

In his presentation, he said agriculture and industry represent opportunities for biobased lubricants in Africa. He noted that two-thirds of Africans rely on agriculture income, so land and water degradation from the use of mineral oil-based products is a concern. Key African industries and original equipment manufacturers supporting such industries – mining, construction, and manufacturing among them – also represent opportunities for biobased lubricants.

Mehrdad Vajedi, director for Dubai-based Permian Energy LLC, was skeptical, saying, Biolubes will not fly in Africa because there is no demand for those types of lubricants in Africa. According to Vajedi, the resistance to biobased lubes on the continent is because there is no culture to use biodegradable [lubricants] in Africa. I think even in 20 years, biolubes wont fly in Africa.

Emmanuel Ekpenyong, head of lubricants for Honeywell Oil and Gas in Nigeria, agreed, saying, biolubes cannot fly immediately in Africa. Perhaps its use will grow slowly over the next few years.

Olaniyi Okedairo, chief operating officer of Ranod Oil and Gas in Nigeria, said it is obvious the African market is not ripe for biolubes.

Biolubes are driven by environmental factors, he continued. If you look at it, the government is not even doing enough for it. It might take a while before there will be investment in that area.

Ekpenyong cited several factors that may impede biobased lubricants growth in Africa:

  • Price, because biobased lubes cost much more than mineral-based lubes;
  • Weak environmental legislation, including little or no emissions tests, ease of disposal of used oils;
  • Prevalance of older engines that are not particularly compatible with biobased lubricants;
  • Low purchasing power or low per capita income in most African countries.

Okedairo concurred. When we talk about biolubes, we talk about it from the base oil standpoint; there are some materials that are coming in, in which everything will be green and the cost will be much higher. You know what we are battling with – price has been the major challenge in transitioning to [API] Group II.

However, Chetty argued that there is a position for biobased lubes just like there is a position for synthetic lubes. He noted that price is always an issue anywhere in the world, not just in Africa. However, he claimed that the impact of using biobased lubes trumps its cost implication because in the long run it will reduce both labor cost and energy cost.

In his presentation, Chetty said biobased lubricants, or environmentally acceptable lubricants, are terms used to describe lubricants that have been manufactured substantially from biobased raw materials, and that have been proven to be biodegradable, non-toxic, and non bio-accumulative. He said biobased lubes should perform at least as effectively as the mineral-based product it replaces.

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Africa    Finished Lubricants    Miscellaneous    Region