Record Year for Grease Output

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The worlds lubricating grease manufacturers created nearly 2.4 billion pounds of the stuff during 2011, a record-high volume, according to data released last week by the National Lubricating Grease Institute.

The years total output of 2.38 billion pounds, as reported by 162 grease manufacturers worldwide, was 1 percent higher than 2010’s yield of 2.36 billion pounds, the newly published NLGI Grease Production Survey Report shows.

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2011s global production also comfortably surpassed the 2.30 billion pounds reported in 2007, the prior peak year.

Unsurprisingly, lithium based greases continue to dominate the market. Including both regular and complex types, lithium accounted for 1.8 billion of the total global production, 75 percent of the year’s volume.

The next-most popular grease types were calcium-thickened (10 percent of the total), polyurea (5 percent), and aluminum greases (4 percent), the report shows. Clay, sodium and other thickeners accounted for the rest.

NLGIs survey, the only one of its kind, provides an annual accounting of lubricating grease production worldwide, and is bucketed in many useful ways, related Paul Grives of ExxonMobil Lubricants & Specialties in Fairfax, Va., who chairs NLGIs Grease Production Survey Committee.

The survey is a voluntary submission of annual grease manufacturing results, he explained. It collected 2011 production data from 162 grease companies who operate 186 grease plants around the world. Those participants included 37 grease makers based in North America, 42 in Europe, 31 in China, 17 in Japan and 14 in India and the subcontinent.

Grives noted that the survey sorts data to show in-depth detail of grease production by geographic zone, by thickener type and by base oil type. In addition to the 2011 results, it gives data for the prior three years, which makes it useful for discerning marketplace trends such as shifts in demand by thickener type or geographic region.

For example, China was far and away the largest grease producer in 2011 and reported making 837 million pounds of grease-36 percent of the global total, the survey shows.

The next-largest reporting areas were North America, with 487 million pounds produced in 2011, and Europe, which made 411 million pounds. India and the Indian subcontinent recorded grease production of 191 million pounds, and Japan rounded out the top five producers with 169 million pounds.

Grives reminded that the pool of reporting companies can vary each year, which means that direct comparisons from year to year should be avoided. Fortunately, 92 percent of those reporting production in 2011 also provided data on their 2010 volumes, so detailed comparative data is available for some geographic regions, such as North America and Europe.

NLGIs survey of grease producers was conducted by the research and consulting firm Grease Technology Solutions, of Manassas, Va. The companys Charles Coe presented the survey findings last week during NLGIs annual meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.

Compared to 2010, he told the group, North American grease production was up in 2011. Its not back to the levels seen in 2006, but it is almost to where it was in 2008, before the economic downturn. Europe also was up versus its 2010 production.

Somewhat surprising, he added, China and India were both down by about 7 percent from what they reported for 2010. Could there have been a bit of a market correction perhaps? Some overhang from an earlier inventory build? We just don’t know why.

Coe also highlighted a new section of the survey which asks respondents to categorize their production by type of base oil used: mineral oil, synthetics including API Group III, semi-synthetics, or vegetable oils.

The answers showed that conventional mineral oils were employed in making 91 percent of the worlds greases in 2011. Synthetics and semi-synthetics each contributed about 4 percent of the total, while not even 1 percent was based on vegetable oils.

NLGI only recently began collecting this data, Coe told the NLGI meeting, and more participants seem to be answering the question. Overall 80 percent of those providing 2011 production volumes also provided information on their base oils, up from 70 percent in 2010, he said. More people seem to be willing to provide this data. We may never get full participation on this question but it is increasing, so we’re getting a clearer, more accurate picture.

NLGI members each receive one copy of the annual Grease Production Survey Report at no cost. Additional copies are available at a price of $75 for members and $175 for nonmembers. For information about ordering, email nlgi@nlgi.org.