Getting the Green House in Order
There is an environmental impact from almost every human activity, and there is little doubt that mineral hydrocarbons extraction and processing has a large one. Dan Tyson offers a number of reasons why the base oil and lubricant industry is faring better than its
It has been more than 50 years since the Stanford Research Institute quietly sent its climate change report to the American Petroleum Institute. It would take many more years for this soft alarm bell about the hydrocarbons industrys environmental impact to be heard by the rest of the world.
Public attitudes toward the industry have since changed, and the upstream end of the business comes under consistent fire from all sides.
Once the [petroleum] industry became established, it was bound to grow, and, by further reducing prices, growth carried the industry into new markets, further accelerating its expansion. The industry would appear to be an invincible competitor in the marketplace of a free economy, Barry Commoner, father of the modern environmental movement wrote in the New York Times in 1977.
Yet the industry has been increasingly vulnerable to the dangers inherent in its own production process. That the industry itself has thus far been unable to reduce its [environmental] hazards to a level acceptable to the public.
Meanwhile, the base oil and lubricant sectors have been steadily developing environmentally friendly alternatives to mineral-based products, while still maintaining equipment reliability and functionality, as well as reducing energy use and emissions.
In recent years, base oil and lubricant manufactures have invested large, yet undisclosed, amounts on the research and development of ecologically safer products, from improved synthetic base stocks to biobased lubricants.
Raj Shah, the director of Koehler Instrument Co., an American petroleum and petrochemical testing equipment and technical support company, and B.S. Nagarkoti, deputy general manager for Mumbai-based Hindustan Petroleum Corp., both agreed that the lubricant industrys change from environmental polluter to ecosystems friend is coming about due to external factors. The industrys shift is due to growing environmental legislation and regulations, awareness of health hazards and possible spills, longer-lasting lubricants and resource conservation, Shah told LubesnGreases.
The aim of these evolving environmental regulations is to grow awareness of greenhouse gas emissions from industry and transport, which are the main source of air pollution, spillage of automotive lubricants due to improper handling, leakage from vehicles and wrong disposal practices.
The result of these new regulations will force original equipment manufacturers across the globe to redesign or modernize engines and the evolution of lubricants performance level. This will force additive suppliers and lubricant manufacturers to develop high-performance lubricants for long drain intervals, Shah predicted.
We know that internal combustion engines pollute the air locally, and there is a growing number of national and local governments enacting tougher environmental rules that also regulate lubricants by association. In November, the local municipality in Bristol, U.K., voted to ban diesels cars starting in 2021, making it the first such city in the country to do so. For nearly a decade, the city has attempted to tackle air pollution levels, according to reports in the British press.
Nagarkoti continued that human safety and environmental regulations in industrial end-use markets are becoming stricter, as laws across the globe put pressure on the industries to rethink environmental policies.
There are numerous shortcomings associated with mineral-based lubricants in certain applications and include issues such as high-temperature performance, oxidation stability, volatility, recycling and disposal regulations. In order to use lubricants for longer periods, demand for high-performance lubricants is soaring. However, the void created by conventional lubricants can be filled by synthetic lubricants but at a higher cost, he explained.
Although the initial cost of these lubricants is very high compared to conventional lubricants, [their lifespan] is three to four times more than conventional lubricants, and the life of machinery can also be increased by the use of synthetic lubricants, he said.
Lowering tailpipe emissions, increasing fuel economy and increasing the usage of low- or zero-sulfur fuel are some of the ways that the lubricants industry can contribute to mitigating its environmental impact and reduce pollution.
Environmental concerns will also drive demand for rerefined base stocks and products derived from bio-based sources such as vegetable oils, he explained.
One way the base oil industry is trying to reduce its carbon footprint is increasing the tonnage of rerefined used motor oils. During a presentation at the ICIS Pan American Base Oil & Lubricant Conference in early December, Ian Moncrieff, vice president of Kline & Co., said worldwide an estimated 12.6 million tons of used oil was collected commercially in 2017, of which only 27 percent was directed to oil rerefineries to produce base oils. Moncrieff said inefficiencies in global used oil supply chain results in such a percentage. Sadly, the balanced is mainly burned or improperly disposed of.
By Klines estimates in 2017, the U.S. led the world in rerefined to base oil production, with nearly 1 million tons, followed by China at 650,000 tons and Brazil at just over 300,000 tons. However, the industry still has a way to go, Moncrieff said. Worldwide, there are approximately 1,000 used oil processors in existence, but the majority of these are small, outmoded and are idle or not regenerating much feedstock into base oils. In China, for example, there are an estimated 400 registered used oil processors, but very few of these are modern base oil rerefiners of scale, Moncrieff said. Likewise, India has more than 200 licensed used oil processors while Iran reportedly has nearly 100, but all of them are small producers.
We believe the great majority of used oil processors in these countries are tiny acid-clay plants – many of which are idle – as well as various forms of processing for fuel use, including thin film evaporation for heavy distillate products, as well as simple fuel remediation for specification [residual fuel oil], he explained.
GEIR, the rerefining branch of the Union of the European Lubricants Industry, estimates 40 percent of all used lubricants can be collected and rerefined for future use. GEIR represents 17 waste oil rerefining companies in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Romania, the U.K., Bulgaria, Belarus and Turkey.
Shah and Nagarkoti agreed there is an urgent need to develop an ecofriendly process for rerefining base oils, including used crankcase and lubricant oils.
Rerefining is preferred because rerefined … oils take only about one-third of the energy than making lubricating oil from refining crude oil, Nagarkoti.
Shah echoed that analysis, adding the while the initial cost of rerefining lubricants and oils may be higher, as is the cost of installing a wind turbine, the sector will help fossil-based resource conservation, protect the environment and increase local employment.
OEMs, especially those in the auto industry, have increased their efforts to work more closely with additive suppliers and lubricant manufacturers to meet environmental regulations and legislation. This, Shah said, has been achieved by OEMs modernizing engine technology thus reducing size and increasing power, as well as downsizing sumps. These measures are all aimed at improving energy efficiency, fuel economy and environmental regulations. These developments have led to lower viscosity lubricant requirements for gasoline and diesel engines, citing the new API GF-6, SN category of engine oils for gasoline engines and CK-4 and FA-4 oils for diesel engines, which received approval from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.
While biobased lubricants have been around for a while – arguably for millennia, in the form of natural fats and vegetable oils – only within the past decade or so have they been taken on board by the lubricant industry as a way to meet stricter environmental laws and reduce harmful chemicals that can bioaccumulate in animals and plants.
Shah and Nagarkoti said the industry has come a long way in reducing its carbon footprint, but has much further to go. Lubricant and base oil manufacturers have a critical role to play in protecting the environment by fostering good manufacturing practices and developing long-life, high-performance lubricants that can increase the service longevity of vehicles and equipment, they said.
Much has changed since 1977, when Commoner wrote his indictment of the petroleum industry, at least in the base oil and lubricant sectors. As David Wright, the director general of the United Kingdom Lubricant Association, said recently, the industries can help form part of the solution to an energy efficient, emission-reduced landscape that conserves resources for the benefit of future generations and help protect the environment.