In a world where overall lubricants volume demand is consistently flat, ester based lubricants are carving an ever-larger slice of the pie and will grow at an average rate of 6 percent for the next several years, says Chris Donaghy of Croda Inc. In a seminar at the recent ICIS Pan American Base Oils & Lubricants Conference, the New Castle, Del.-based executive reviewed the key markets, chemistries and opportunities for these high-value, man-made molecules.
Back in 2000 B.C., Donaghy wryly observed, esters likely had 100 percent of the lubricants market. In those ancient days, simple animal-fat triglycerides would have lubricated the axles of heavy carts and chariots. But with the industrial revolution in the 18th century and the rise of petroleum power, animal and vegetable based lubes were largely eclipsed – at least, until the jet era arrived in the second half of the 20th century. Since then, many industries have accelerated beyond the capabilities of petroleum based lubricants, leading users to turn again to synthetic esters.