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Europes Environmental Tilt


ATHENS, Greece – The lubricants industry, in common with most, faces numerous challenges created by new regulations. In Europe, in fact, legislation is the major force driving forward lubricant technology. With nearly two-thirds of all Directives originating from the European Union being motivated by concerns for the environment, legislation is having an ever-increasing impact on the way the lubricant industry needs to operate.

This situation was highlighted by UEIL (the Union Independante de lIndustrie Europeenne des Lubrifiants), which represents the independent lubricant blenders in Europe, at its annual International Congress here in late October.

Richard Biggin, recently retired from Lubrizol U.K., described how the developer of modern automotive engine oils needs to understand the regulations covering the following areas: emissions, CO2 tax, end-of-vehicle-life disposal, noise, packaging, disclosure, fiscal, chemicals, environment, fuel quality and used oil handling

and disposal. The engine oil formulator also must recognize the vehicle builders need to react to the legislation covering fuel economy, emissions and, to make things even more interesting, extended drain intervals. (Can you remember those days when the only worry was the technical performance of the oil in the engine?)

It is satisfying however to realize how far we have come in the past few years, said Biggin. In 1992, a typical truck would have been expected to emit about 2,000 Kg of particulate matter in its working life, he pointed out. By 2004 this figure had dropped amazingly to 120 Kg. This improvement, already taken for granted, was only achieved by close work between the oil and truck industries.

New engine oil types are on the way to cope with more stringent emissions standards, but the situation is complicated by individual vehicle manufacturers who require different oil types, tailored to the specific emissions equipment fitted to their vehicles. Since truck builders will not all be using the same type of emission control equipment, the heavy-duty engine oil area will get very complicated for marketers in the next few years.

Even transmission oil formulators must take note of legislation, as their products must contribute to reductions in emissions and fuel consumption. They must also take note about increasing concerns in handling end-of-life products which have been in service for several years.

The European Union has issued Directives covering dangerous preparations and material safety data sheets, the UEIL audience heard, but these have not yet been implemented in all member states. In fact it is clear that safety data sheets are a major problem in Europe with a very high percentage of those in use failing to meet the legal requirements.

Stretched by REACH

However, the big legislation subject in Europe is REACH – for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals. Essentially the objective of this Regulation is to produce a database of all chemicals in use. This database will be widely accessible and provide full details of composition, safety and environmental test data relating to use of the product.

REACH has created major controversy since it was published as a 1,300-page proposal in October 2003. The cost to the manufacturer of providing the data needed for regulation will depend on the volume of the product produced. Below 10 metric tons the cost will be Euro 30,000 – but if, for example, more than 1,000 metric tons were produced, the testing cost to obtain the mandatory data rises to an incredible Euro 2 million.

The lubricant industry uses many small-volume chemical components, especially in the industrial and specialty lube areas. It seems clear that many of these components could disappear over the next few years as it will not be viable for manufacturers to carry out the testing required for registration.

There also is considerable pressure and discussion taking place with European legislators concerning the alarming impact that REACH could have for future employment in the chemical industry. The loss of jobs predicted within the EU as a result of this new law is causing wide-spread concern.

There are many other worries over REACH, not least the apparent ready availability to a competitor of a companys product composition. No existing legislation has required this full information.

Also unclear is how blends like lubricants and greases will be defined within the proposal. Within the lubricants industry thoughts are divided as to the impact on varying the additive treat rate in engine oil or modifying the EP (Extreme Pressure) strength of a cutting oil. In other words, will it be assumed that a mixture of registered components is not in itself a new product? All will become clear in time.

Coming Soon

The first European Parliament reading of this proposed legislation is likely to be in early 2005. Implementation date is anybodys guess at the moment, but 2007 or 2008 seems likely. However the important point is that REACH is not a Directive but a Regulation. Once passed by the European Parliament it becomes basic law in all member states. A Directive allows the local state to interpret and implement on a sensible basis for the individual country involved. A Regulation gives individual states no room to maneuver nor the possibility of a local interpretation.

Biggin pointed out that a fairly major practical problem within Europe at present is the shortage of testing facilities. The testing capacity is simply not large enough to handle all the products requiring registration.

It cannot be overemphasized how important REACH is to the chemical and therefore the lubricants industry. Many of the formulatory practices in place for many years will need to change and the future for the small specialist lubricant manufacturer looks tough.

More Legislation?

Apart from the general chemical regulatory situation highlighted by REACH directly there are other associated areas of future legislation affecting the lubes industry to a greater or lesser extent.

Endocrine modulators or substances that can change the bodys hormone-producing glands are unsurprisingly considered to be a significant hazard. REACH will require products to prove that they do not possess this characteristic – but the methods for testing and classifying products are not yet clear. Indeed very few endocrine modulators have been identified that are relevant to lubricant products.

PBTs (Persistent Bio-accumulative and Toxic chemicals) are under close examination. Again REACH will be the mechanism whereby products will be classified.

The Biocide Directive has ensured that 350 of the most widely used products have been registered. However completing the database of test data on these products is estimated to take another 10 years.

In common with the United States, but possibly not with the same degree of pressure, the EU is looking at fluid mists generated when metaworking fluids are being used. It seems possible that no exposure limits will be set in Europe in the short term. At present there seems to be more of an interest in emphasizing good practice in workshops, rather than establishing arbitrary exposure limits without technical or medical supporting data. It is hoped that continued dialogue between the lubricants industry and legislators will lead to a sensible route to protecting workers in the metalworking industry.

The UEIL Link

Most independent lubricant marketers find it very difficult to individually keep abreast of all this legislation impacting on lubricants and the marketplace. In the fall, UEIL moved to new offices in Brussels – home of the European Commission – to put the views of independent lubricant producers forward in a concentrated professional manner. (See its website, Heading its office staff is Secretary General Dominique de Hemptinne.

At the Athens meeting, Franz-Martin Bruggemann from EuroPIA (the European Petroleum Industry Association) emphasized the importance of being in Brussels, where 13,000 lobbyists are based and vying for the commissions attention. (Only in Washington, D.C., he noted, is the concentration higher!) Bruggemann described how EuroPIA had been able to work successfully with the EU on matters relating to the fuel and refining interests of its members.

From comments made by those in the assembly it became clear that much serious discussion needs to take place between legislators and the lubricants industry to ensure that workable solutions are found to the problems faced. Solutions must protect users and the environment but must be based on sound technical knowledge – not emotion or vested interest, participants felt.

In this climate, the importance of the role that UEIL plays in both representing Europes small and mid-size lubricant producers and feeding back information to members must not be underestimated.

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