TUCSON, Ariz. – The world’s lubricant companies produced an impressive 2.47 billion pounds of lubricating grease in 2012, according to new data released last week by the National Lubricating Grease Institute. In 2011, the combined total reported worldwide was a slightly higher 2.56 billion pounds, according to the NLGI 2012 Grease Production Survey Report.
Almost 40 percent of the 2012 volume was manufactured in China, which is more than all of the grease produced in North America and Europe combined. China’s grease producers made a whopping 931 million pounds in 2012.
North American grease output reached 475 million pounds in the same year, or 19 percent of the global total, while Europe’s producers made 401 million pounds (16 percent of the total). The next-largest grease producer is the Indian subcontinent, which churned out 191 million pounds in 2012, the survey shows.
This annual survey relies on voluntary submissions of grease production data, and is broken down by a multitude of categories, such as grease thickener type and geographic region, said Tyler Jark, who presented the survey results at NLGI’s annual meeting here.
Lithium soaps, including lithium and lithium complex, continue to be the foremost thickener type at 76.67 percent of the global total, followed by calcium-thickened greases and then polyurea greases, Jark pointed out. Those are the three most common types worldwide.
There are some strong regional differences to this ranking, the survey demonstrates. Japan, for example, is a stronghold of polyurea-thickened greases, which have grown to almost 27 percent of its output. India produces zero polyurea and slightly over 90 percent of lithium types. And Africa and the Middle East favor calcium soap greases more than any other region does.
Jark said the annual survey also asks manufacturers to characterize their output by type of base oil used: conventional mineral oils, synthetics including API Group III and other types, semi-synthetic, or bio-based.
Respondents to the 2012 survey defined about 80 percent of all grease production this way, he said. On a global basis, mineral oils represented 92 percent of the volume, synthetics and semi-synthetics were a bit over 7 percent, and biobased accounted for less than 1 percent.
Here too, the differences are more pronounced when peering at individual regions. North American producers who responded to this question said more than 15 percent of their volumes are synthetics and semi-synthetics. By contrast, India’s grease producers say they use virtually 100 percent conventional mineral oil.
Jark explained that the NLGI grease survey, which is the most comprehensive in the world, consolidates data from 213 reporting companies who together operate 250 grease plants. Some countries, such as Japan and China, compile their data on the national level and submit this summarized information to NLGI. All data is gathered in confidence by the independent research firm Grease Technology Solutions LLC, so individual company information is never seen by anyone else, Jark emphasized.
Notably, China provided a lot of data this year, from more companies, and revised their prior three years of data upward as well. So don’t look at older NLGI Grease Production reports, Jark cautioned. This new report is the one to use to get the most current picture of China’s grease production and thickener types from 2009 to 2012.
Copies of the 2012 Grease Production Survey are free to NLGI member companies and participants in the survey. Others may purchase a copy for $200 from NLGI’s website: www.NLGI.org/products-page/