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Lubricants: The Industry That Keeps Us Moving

Lubricants hold a pivotal role in allowing society to function but they are also critical for the energy transition. 27% of all the energy globally is lost due to friction. Traditional lubricants require innovation to improve our global energy efficiency and to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Lubricant Applications

The global lubricants market was valued at around $115 billion in 2020, and is expected to rise to around $133 billion by 2028. The dynamics and factors of the industry are changing dramatically, from raw materials, to the rising demand for bio-based lubricants, COVID-19, and the automotive sector. In addition, global economic recovery following the Coronavirus pandemic is expected to bolster demand for lubricants.

The primary use of lubricants is to reduce friction between surfaces. They are used and applied for a variety of reasons across many different industries. These are some of the core applications of lubricants:

To Reduce Friction: Lubricants across both domestic and industrial applications can be used to reduce friction. It helps machines operate and increases the life of that machine by preventing wear that is caused by friction. Lubricants act as a layer that helps the motion of moving parts, they are the barrier between two moving parts, enabling them to move freely and independently. Products such as graphite, molybdenum disulfide, PTFE, and PE can be incorporated into lubricant products which further help to reduce friction on moving parts. Their molecular structure and properties mean particles slide even easier enhancing the ability of the lubricant to reduce friction.

To Reduce Contamination: Lubricants are able to remove contaminants or unwanted waste – commonly applied to the automotive industry. Lubricants move the unwanted waste to a filter where they are removed. This helps to keep the machine/equipment they are applied to clean and maximise its operations. In the case of automotive engines, dispersants are added to engine oils and lubricants. Dispersants are often combined with detergents to help keep engines clean and free of deposits and unwanted contamination.

To Prevent Corrosion: Specific industrial products and components can easily corrode when exposed to moisture and oxygen, for example, iron and steel. Replacing these parts can be highly expensive, but lubricants can act as a coating on these parts to help reduce corrosion as they act as a layer that limits the moisture and oxygen reaching the component preventing oxidation and rust. When a corrosion inhibitor such as cathodic inhibitor, anodic inhibitor, or mixed inhibitor is added to a lubricant in the correct formula, they can be highly effective in acting as a passivation layer that stops corrosive substances from reaching the component and protects it.

Why Do We Need Lubricants?

Lubricants are the cornerstone for equipment and machines. The layer of lubricant helps all moving parts, protects equipment, increases durability, and reduces friction. They prevent the equipment from overheating, rubbing, corroding, and damaging itself while increasing energy efficiency.

Constant increases in manufacturing, heavy machinery usage, and other industrial processes will drive the growth of the lubricants industry. Lubricants are vital to nearly every industrial machine process and save companies a significant amount of money in the form of repairs, maintenance, energy and operational efficiency.

Investment Considerations

The sector is not set in the path of growth, however. There are factors that will reduce the demand for certain lubricants in specific sectors. One rapidly changing sector is the automotive sector and the rise of EVs. Both EVs and Hybrid vehicles do require lubricants – mainly engine oil and transmission fluids. But they do not require as much as traditional petrol and diesel vehicles, with some estimates stating their rise may decrease the demand for lubricants per vehicle by 50%. Automotive lubricants account for around 55% of the total lubricants market and the rise of EVs poses a serious threat to lubricant demand.

Electrification
Electrification of the transport sector means that road-transport lubricant demand (currently 40% of the total demand) is highly likely to peak within the next five years. After 5 years, it is expected that the demand for lubricants in the transport sector will begin a gradual decline as the share of EVs increases and the phasing out of internal combustion engines happens.

The lubricants sector does have a generally positive outlook across the board even with the rise of EVs. However, there are potential future disruptions that may change the sector from its current and predicted path — battery technology and green regulation — these factors together could wipe an estimated 20% off the global market value in 2035.

Battery Technology
A major breakthrough in battery technology will result in much lower costs for batteries and EVs. This would accelerate the adoption of EVs globally, phasing out ICE vehicles faster than originally estimated, resulting in a rapid decline in the need for automotive lubricants.

Envrionmental Regulation
Next, the acceleration of green and environmental regulation would be a big impact on the industrial lubricants demand. An increase in stricter policies would likely result in enhancements of industrial processes, a shift to cleaner alternatives, and a rise in circular economies. These changes would result in a much lower demand for traditional lubricants specifically. This is why sustainable innovation is such an important part of the lubricant industry’s future.

The Future of Lubricants

Two factors pose big questions to the lubricants sector: energy efficiency and sustainability. Lubricants are traditionally petroleum-based and harmful to the environment. The growing pressure to improve sustainability has caused an increase in demand for higher biodegradability of lubricants.

Sustainability
Traditional lubricants directly emit oil into the surrounding area and have negative impacts on the environment. Estimates indicate that over 10 million tonnes of mineral lubricants and fluids are polluting the environment annually. In Europe, 5 million tonnes of lubricants are consumed each year on average, with 40% directly polluting the environment.

This pollution and environmental impact that traditional lubricants cause has spurred an increase in demand for more sustainable lubricants and oils. The demand for biodegradable lubricants is constantly increasing, but still, questions remain over the sustainability of these lubricants – some are still 50% petroleum-based.

Newer sustainable lubricants are based on natural products improving their biodegradability and reducing the environmental impact. Lubricating oils with base oil and vegetable-based additives appeared on the market in Europe in the mid-80s. These products have high biodegradability compared to other types of base oils, with biodegradability levels ranging from 70-to 100%.

Energy Efficiency
Although innovation is taking place in the industry, further innovation is still required. Not only to be more sustainable but to improve efficiency that can help improve operational and energy efficiency globally. Regulators, governments, and the industry need to focus on sustainability and performance. Friction is one of the largest causes of energy loss/waste and the innovation of better-performing lubricants can save huge amounts of energy per year.

Market Watch

The Four Core Types of Lubricant:

Oils
Oils are thin liquids made of long polymer chains, with additives for various extra properties. Common additives include antioxidants to keep the oil from oxidising, corrosion inhibitors to prevent corrosion, and detergents to prevent the formation of deposits. Being a long polymer chain, they are excellent are staying between surfaces and reducing friction. They all have different weights that represent their viscosity. The lower the weight the thinner the oil is.

Greases
They are made up of mixing mineral oil with a thickener such as a lithium-based soap. Greases combine the lubricating properties of oils but are thicker and stickier meaning it adheres to surfaces better. Greases protect surfaces and are commonly used on large industrial equipment. Once again, they come in various viscosities depending on the thickener and additional particles added.

Penetrating Lubricants
These are designed to have a lower viscosity and a high amount of additives to infiltrate cracks and small gaps between surfaces such as rusted bolts. They are not designed to be long-lasting like other lubricant types and can loosen rust and debris very quickly. WD-40 is a highly common used penetrating lubricant used domestically and at an industrial level.

Dry Lubricants
They are made up of lubricating particles like graphite and silicone. On a molecular level, these particles are very slippery due to their individual properties. Weak-molecular bonding means it only takes a small amount of pressure for the particles to slide over each other. This allows them to reduce friction between surfaces very well and are able to operate without the need for any oils/liquid.


Leading Lubricant Producers

Lubricants
The main lubricant consuming industries:
Transport
Oil & Gas
Mining
Marine
Chemicals
Construction
Common Lubricant Properties
The most common properties of lubricants:
High boiling point
High viscosity index
Thermal stability
Demulsibility
High resistance to oxidation

 

Explore the questions we can answer for you:

✓ What is the long-term impact of climate change policy and indeed the rise of EVs on the lubricants industry?
✓ What is the required innovation for the industry is and how we can achieve it?
✓ How has Covid-19 impacted the industry?
✓ How can businesses meet and overcome the current challenges of the lubricants industry?

 

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