Fuchs Plans South Africa Grease Hub

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Fuchs Petrolub plans to build a new grease plant in Johannesburg, South Africa, that will serve as the companys hub for grease manufacturing for the rest of Africa, a company official said.

Fuchs has identified South Africa as a hub for the manufacture of grease from which it will be distributed throughout Africa and is investing in the building of a new state of the art grease plant in South Africa, Paul Deppe, managing director of Fuchs Lubricants South Africa, said in an interview. The plant will have a capacity in excess of 4,000 tons per annum and although designed to manufacture lithium, lithium complex and aluminum complex greases, it will have the flexibility to manufacture other types of grease if required.

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He noted that lithium based greases are commonly used in most applications and have the highest demand. The grease industry is a major user of lithium hydroxide in grease thickening systems.

Lithium hydroxide is now becoming a scarce commodity, Deppe said. The demand for lithium batteries has also increased, and this has resulted in global shortages. If this trend continues, then the demand and focus will shift to calcium and calcium sulphonate greases, which requires a different manufacturing process.

In 2014 Fuchs acquired Lubritene and Lubrasa, sister specialty lubricant companies based in South Africa. Lubritene manufactures lubricants and greases for the mining, industrial, drilling and commercial industries; and Lubrasa manufactures food grade lubricants and greases.

Patrick Swan of ASWAN Consulting told a reporter the new grease may be geared towards consolidating Lubritenes grease production capacity for the mining industry. While noting that 4,000 tons is not a huge volume relative to Africa and South Africa grease consumption, he added that local production of high quality product at a more competitive price is a good development for Africa.

According to the National Lubricating Grease Institutes Grease Production Survey Report, survey respondents reported 50,200 tons of grease produced in Africa and the Middle East in 2015, 17.4 percent less than the previous year. Of that 2015 total, lithium complex greases accounted for 12.8 percent (6,400 tons), conventional lithium soap for 71.1 percent (35,700 tons) and aluminum complex for 1.8 percent (around 900 tons).

George Morvey, industry manager for Klines Energy Practice said in an email that the local plant will save Fuchs from shipping product from Europe to South Africa so there are costs savings as well as distribution savings to ship product to other countries on the continent from a local base.

Morvey said building a grease plant in South Africa could also enable Fuchs to expand its packaging offerings to cater more to local market demands, making the lubricant blender a more valued supplier to end users. South Africa is an automotive vehicle manufacturing country, and perhaps this local plant will better serve Fuchs vehicle [original equipment manufacturer] customers for industrial grease and automotive factory fill grease, he said.