Bio-lubes in the spotlight

I’ve been noticing a lot of bio-lubricants collaboration announcement recently and we might as well try to get a little bit of insight into this market. By the way, you might have already heard about big news from OPX Biotechnologies and Rivertop Renewables announced on Monday. I am getting more information about them and will post soon.

Back to bio-lubes, Elevance Renewable Sciences also announced on Monday that it has partnered with Kansas City, Missouri-based NL Grease LLC in the commercialization of new renewable-based high-performance grease (a semi-solid lubricant for those not familiar with it) using Elevance’s metathesis technology. The companies expect to start selling to the North American grease market this year.

I have not spoken to Elevance on this deal but a nice article from Lubes and Greases magazine reported that the partnership will involve marketing products both from Elevance’s/Wilmar’s joint venture biochemical refinery in Indonesia as well as some contract manufacturing Elevance would be doing in other locations. The goal, according to the article, is to make greases available throughout North America and elsewhere.

Grease manufactured products are used in the automotive, industrial, railroad, construction, oil drilling, agriculture and off-highway markets. In the press release, grease production worldwide was reportedly more than 2bn pounds in 2009. I have not followed the lubricants and grease markets since 2007 so my brain in this area is very rusty (it needs to be lubricated haha!).

Meanwhile, last March, both Solazyme and Amyris announced green lubes partnership as well. Solazyme has partnered with Dow Chemical to advance the development of algal oils for use in di-electric insulating fluids. Process oils such as electrical oils, rubber oils, white oils, defoamer oils, ink oils, and agricultural spray oils represent anouther leading lubricant category after engine oils.

Solazyme said they hope to tap the more than 500m gallon dielectric insulating fluids market with bio-based alternative. Dow is expected to initially obtain up to 20m gallons of Solazyme algal oils for use in dielectric insulating fluids and other industrial applications in 2013 and up to 60m gallons in 2015.

Amyris formed a joint venture with distributor US Venture to produce, market and distribute finished lubricants for the North American market using Amyris’ farnesene-derived base oils. Amyris is said to be working on the production of a complete line of renewable lubricants, including hydraulic, compressor, turbine and gear oil and grease, as well as 2-cycle and 4-cycle engine oil.

Base oils by the way are typically the building blocks of lubricant oils and are mostly derived from a mixture of fractions of the crude petroleum oil refining process. Typically lubricants contain 90% base oil and less than 10% additives (thanks Wikipedia!). Vegetable oils or synthetic liquids such as hydrogenated polyolefins, esters, silicones, fluorocarbons and many others are sometimes used as base oils.

Amyris is actually manufacturing farnesene-derived base oils through a joint venture with Brazilian sugar producer Cosan. The Cosan/Amyris joint venture plans to use sugarcane as a feedstock in a standard fermentation process in which Amyris’s modified yeast converts the cane syrup to farnesene (under the brand Biofene™). Biofene is then finished chemically to create base oils.

There are already a lot of bio-based lubricants in the market especially derived from vegetable oil. According to a 2010 report commissioned by the US trade group United Soybean Board, bio-based hydraulic fluids are growing 5-10%/year worldwide and now represent 2-4% (US) and 3-7% (EU) of the hydraulics markets mostly because of advancement in performance, cost and of course it’s “renewable-based” factors. Supply availability for base oils in the US is also tightening as petroleum-based oil production capacity has moved off-shore.

Of the bio-based oils, soybean oil is the most well researched in the field of lubricants, according to the report. Soy-based lubricant applications include packaged household lubricants, industrial hydraulic fluids, food grade hydraulic fluids, transformer fluids, transmission fluids, chain lubricants, gear lubricants, compressor lubricants and greases.

Speaking of which, there are three already commercialized bio-lubricants that recently bagged the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Biopreferred label: Nutek Green, Green Earth Technologies, Bio-Lub Canada.

addthis_pub = ‘greenchicgeek’;

Leave a Reply