Global Grease Production Drops

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Global grease production fell nearly 6 percent from 2000 to 2001, totaling just over 1.5 billion pounds last year, according to the National Lubricating Grease Institute. The only bright spot was the Peoples Republic of China, where total reported grease production increased more than 14 percent, to over 178 million pounds. In North America, which supplies a third of the worlds grease, production plummeted 10.5 percent; in Europe it declined 2.6 percent.

There are no huge shocks in the data, said Edward Fliss of Shell Oil Products U.S., a director of NLGI. Calcium soap greases are down and lithium soaps are up. People worldwide are shifting to higher performance greases.

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Patricia Todd of Lubrizol Corp., also an NLGI director, agrees. The worldwide trend is toward lithium greases at the expense of calcium greases, she said, because end use demands are more sophisticated.

But there are some anomalies, said NLGI president Jeff St. Aubin of Chemtool. Calcium has certainly gone down, but calcium sulfonate is a success story, especially in North America, where it now accounts for 3 percent of total production. Its the newest category in the survey report, St. Aubin added. It has some unique properties and is used as a higher-end multi-purpose grease. Another interesting point is that anhydrous calcium, another higher-performance grease, is diminishing in North America. Its losing market share.

NLGIs annual Grease Production Survey Report is compiled by Joseph A. Lurz, Jr., president of J&A Consultants in Spring, Texas. Although this is believed to be the most comprehensive survey of the grease business, there is still a substantial unreported production volume, Lurz noted in his introduction. Because of the large number of industry mergers as well as the failure of some previous survey participants to respond, Lurz was unable to estimate missing production volumes for the 2001 calendar year survey.

Worldwide, the survey shows that lithium soap greases accounted for 71 percent of total grease production in 2001, up from 66 percent in 1998. Over the sameperiod, calcium soap greases fell from 15 percent to 12 percent of the total produced. The market share of other older and simpler soap technologies also declined: sodium soap greases went from 3.5 percent to 2 percent of total production, clay-thickened greases from 4 percent to 3 percent. Aluminum soap greases, most popular in North American steel mills, held steady at about 5 percent of total production.

For North America and Europe, the survey garnered sufficient responses to report data on both a total-reported and a comparative basis. The comparative data from companies that participated in each of the past four years shows declining grease production.

On a total-reported basis, North American grease productionreached 504 million pounds last year,including 352 million pounds of lithium soap greases. For the 38 North American grease producers who supplied data for 2001 and prior years, production declined 10.5 percent from 2000 to 2001. Production in 2001 was up 1.3 percent over 1998 for these companies, however.

In Europe, total reported 2001 grease production was 416 million pounds (converted at 2.2046 pounds per kilogram),including 278 million pounds of lithium soap greases. On a comparative basis, European grease production by the 31 companies providing 2001 and prior year data declined 2.6 percent from 2000 to 2001, and declined 4.2 percent from 1998 to 2001.

In Japan, polyurea greases accounted for over 20 percent of the total grease production last year, compared with 7 percent in North America and just 2 percent in Europe. Japanese have traditionally used polyurea greases in their automotive industry, particularly in the constant velocity joints, explained Lubrizols Todd.

Japanese transplants have probably encouraged the growth of polyurea greases in the U.S., noted Shells Fliss. Why have polyurea greases been less popular in Europe? The raw materials can be hazardous, said Fliss. In Europe you may have more restrictions against handling those materials. And in Europe, youll see more synthetics and sophisticated lithium complex greases.

The NLGI report includes data fromNorth America, Europe, theCaribbean, Central and South America, China, Japan, Africa and theMiddle East, India and the Indian Subcontinent, Pacific and Southeast Asia. For copies ($25 to members, $40 to nonmembers, plus postage), contact the National Lubricating Grease Institute at nlgi@sound.net or www.nlgi.org.