Biodegradable Lubricants


Welcome to our blog on Biodegradable lubricants. Lubricants have been an essential component in many industries for decades, but with the increasing awareness of environmental issues, biodegradable lubricants have become a more popular choice. Before going forward we should know different kinds of Industrial Lubricants available in the market.

Different Kinds of Industrial Lubricants Available In The Market:

There are several types of lubricants available in the market, each with its own unique properties and uses. Some of the most common types of lubricants include:

  1. Mineral oil lubricants: These are the most commonly used lubricants and are made from crude oil. They are typically used in engines, gears, and bearings.
  2. Synthetic lubricants: These lubricants are made from chemical compounds, and they have a higher performance level than mineral oil lubricants. They are commonly used in extreme temperature and high-stress applications, such as aviation and aerospace.
  3. Semi-synthetic lubricants: These lubricants are a combination of mineral oil and synthetic compounds, and they offer the benefits of both types of lubricants. They are commonly used in automotive and industrial applications.
  4. Bio-based lubricants: These lubricants are derived from renewable resources such as vegetable oils and animal fats. They are commonly used in environmentally sensitive applications and are biodegradable.
  5. Grease lubricants: These lubricants are a combination of oil and a thickening agent, they are typically used in applications that require a lubricant to stay in place, such as bearings, gears and joints.
  6. Water-based lubricants: These lubricants are made with water as the base fluid, they are typically used in applications where fire hazard is a concern, such as in power plants, and industries.
  7. High-Temperature lubricants: These lubricants are designed to perform at high temperatures, and are typically used in applications such as furnace and ovens.
  8. Low-Temperature lubricants: These lubricants are designed to perform at low temperatures and are typically used in applications such as refrigeration and cryogenic equipment.

History of Synthetic Lubricants:

The existence of synthetic lubricants ways days back to 1877 when Friedel and Crafts synthesized hydrocarbons using aluminium trichloride as catalysts. Between the 1930s and early 1940s, organizations such as Zurich Aviation Congress, United States Naval Research Laboratories, etc., started to develop ester-based lubricant technologies. In the mid-70s, the lubricant giants mainly focused on synthetic lubricants; however, with the increase in industrial production, the usage of synthetic lubricants also increased, and so are their demands. In recent years, the effects of lubricants on the environment have been in focus. The breakdown products of the synthetic lubricants affect water, air and soil. Thus, using environmentally friendly lubricants in industrial applications is the need of the hour.

Present Significant Lubricant Base Stocks Available:

  1. Highly unsaturated or high oleic vegetable oils (HOVOs): Primarily recommended for applications exposed to an environment where toxicity is of primary concern, such as sawmill blades, ambient temperature chain drives, small gearboxes etc.
  2. Low viscosity polyalphaolefins (PAOs): Finds their application in several industrial applications, particularly the gearboxes, due to their excellent tribological properties.
  3. Polyalkylene glycols (PAGs): Suitable for industrial gearboxes
  4. Dibasic acid esters (DEs): Recommended for compressors and turbines
  5. Polyol esters (PEs)

What is Biodegradable Lubricants:

Biodegradable lubricants are lubricants that can be broken down by natural biological processes. It is the reason it is called environmentally acceptable lubricant. The concept of biodegradable lubricants dates back to the 1970s when the environmental movement was gaining momentum. The first biodegradable lubricants were made from vegetable oils and animal fats, but with advances in technology, today’s biodegradable lubricants are made from synthetic materials that are designed to break down quickly and safely in the environment.

The use of biodegradable lubricants has many benefits over non-biodegradable lubricants. Biodegradable lubricants are less toxic, they break down more easily in the environment, and they are less likely to cause damage to wildlife and ecosystems. Biodegradable lubricants also have the potential to increase energy efficiency and extend the lifespan of equipment.

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In this blog, we will explore the history of biodegradable lubricants, their composition, and the benefits of using them. We hope that this blog will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about whether to use biodegradable lubricants in your industry. We will also discuss the different types of biodegradable lubricants available and their specific applications. We will also touch upon some of the challenges and concerns related to the use of biodegradable lubricants.

Dis-benefits of Non Biodegradable Lubricants:

Non-biodegradable lubricants are lubricants that cannot be broken down by natural biological processes. These lubricants are typically made from mineral oil and synthetic chemicals, which can have negative effects on the environment.

One of the major dis-benefits of non-biodegradable lubricants is their ability to pollute soil and water. They can leach into the ground and contaminate water sources, causing harm to wildlife and damaging ecosystems. They can also affect the quality of air by releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.

Another negative effect of non-biodegradable lubricants is their potential to harm wildlife. Many animals, birds and aquatic life can mistake lubricants for food or ingest it accidentally, which can cause serious health problems and even death.

Non-biodegradable lubricants can also contribute to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases during their production and use. They are also not environmentally friendly in their disposal, as they can take hundreds of years to break down and release harmful chemicals in the process.

Finally, the use of non-biodegradable lubricants can lead to the corrosion and failure of equipment, which can result in costly repairs and replacements.

In summary, the use of non-biodegradable lubricants can have serious negative effects on the environment, including pollution, harm to wildlife, and contributing to climate change. It is also not cost-effective in the long run as it can damage the equipment. Therefore, it is important to consider biodegradable lubricants as an alternative, which can have a positive impact on the environment and even increase the lifespan of equipment.

What Are Biodegradable Lubricants?

According to sources [1], Biodegradable lubricants can be categorized into ready bio degradable (60% biodegradable in 28 days) and inherently biodegradable (biodegradable 20% within 28 days). Biodegradable lubricants must meet ISO 9439 or OECD 301B standards. These tests consist of treating a lubricant sample in the presence of oxygen with microorganisms and measuring the amount of CO2 they produce. Petroleum-based lubricants naturally break down between 15-35% over 28 days, but not enough to reach the required 60%. So, petroleum-based lubricants are called inherently biodegradable lubricants.

To be a proper biodegradable lubricant, the lubricant must also be “low toxic.” Many tests can determine this. These tests include fish, daphnia and other organisms. Mineral oil and vegetable oils are safe in their purest form; however, they can be toxic because lubricants are not just pure oil. The toxicity of lubricants increases as additives are added to formulations.

Due to strict regulations from the government and increasing awareness of using environmentally friendly lubricants, lubricant manufacturers are facing challenges in meeting the demands of industries. However, it is still yet in the discussion whether the concept of biodegradable lubricants is still realistic and cost-effective. In Western Europe, formulations containing 50:50 (ester: PAO) are used for gasoline engine oils [2].

Vegetable oil-based lubricants are being introduced due to their ease of availability and non-toxicity. Genetically engineered vegetable oils are also being used as lubricant base stock. Researchers have reported the superior tribological properties of various vegetable oils [3] over conventional lubricants. Rapeseed oil, canola oil, castor oil, sunflower oil, etc., are among the most commonly reported oils with excellent tribological properties. Diesters are technically a good choice for biodegradable lubricant, but they are expensive; hence, synthetic esters and vegetable oils are used. It has been seen that a combination of synthetic ester and lithium calcium thickener has shown better results in terms of various tribological properties, including corrosion resistance [4]. Vegetable oils are not expensive, but due to their poor oxidation properties, they are not being used in large quantities for industrial applications; however, genetically modified vegetable oils are now being used as base stocks.

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Problems Faced By The Manufacturers In Producing The Biodegradable Lubricants:

Concern about the environment is now the primary focus for all Governments; hence, equipment manufacturers are looking forward to bio-degradable and environment-friendly solutions. But it is not easy for the manufacturers to produce biodegradable lubricants that meet similar standards as the non-biodegradable industrial lubricants. Several researchers are working towards this common goal of achieving environment-friendly lubricants with comparable properties to those of the present industrial lubricants.

Though research on vegetable oils has shown promising results, but all vegetable oils can not be used for industrial applications. Though it is difficult to predict how much mineral oil and synthetic oils will be replaced with genetically modified vegetable oil-based lubricants, at least 30% replacement might be possible within the next few years [2]. Research on rapeseed oil, castor oil, and palm oils has shown promising results [3]. However, the problem of the thermo-oxidative stability of vegetable oils still needs to be focused on.

Low oxidative stability is a sign that the oil will oxidize if not treated. Oils can become thicker and have a more plastic-like consistency. This problem can be addressed by chemical modification of vegetable oils or the use of antioxidants. However, it will increase the price.

Chemical modification can involve partial hydrogenation and the shifting of fatty acids. Hydrogenation can be difficult because it is hard to know when the process should stop. The oil’s required liquidity and pour point will determine the optimal hydrogenation. Biotechnology has made it possible to create genetically modified oil seeds that are stable and non-toxic.

The other challenge faced by the manufacturers is the source of vegetable oils. Due to varied climate conditions, the nature of the vegetable oils also changes; hence, getting a uniform composition with similar physico-chemical properties may not always be possible in several situations.

Several manufacturers blend PAO with diesters, making them biodegradable to a large extent. These blends also exhibit good solubility, lesser oxidation properties and a good temperature–viscosity relationship. Also, the blend of canola oil with diesters is common. The choice of the blend depends on the type of application and recyclability.

Applications of Biodegradable Lubricants:

Even with the challenges, the lubricant manufacturers and researchers have identified several applications where products derived from vegetable oils are being used: Transmission hydraulic fluid, Industrial hydraulic fluids for process and machinery, Metalworking oils and coolants, Food grade coolants, Chainsaw bar oil, Gear lubricants, Greases [2]. Biodegradable greases (based on lithium calcium thickener) are also available for applications where metal to metal contact is present such as agriculture and forestry types of equipment, construction and earthmoving equipment, mining and conveying equipment, water treatment and irrigation, reservoirs, bridges, etc. [4,5].
Reported results [2] on the usage of vegetable oils, particularly soybean oil, can be seen under the names BioSOYTM, a patented electrical transformer fluid named BioTRANSTM, chainsaw bar oil called SoyLINKTM, a rail curve lubricant called SoyTrakTM, and Soy TRUCKTM, a semi-truck fifth-wheel grease has been reported by Honary.

Thus, it can be seen that biodegradable lubricants will gradually pave their way in various industrial applications, which will ultimately help in reducing the harmful effects of industrial lubricants on the environment.

Is There Any Disadvantages of Biodegradable Lubricants:

Biodegradable lubricants have many advantages over non-biodegradable lubricants, such as reduced environmental pollution, improved energy efficiency, and increased equipment lifespan. However, there are also some disadvantages that should be considered when using biodegradable lubricants:

  1. Cost: Biodegradable lubricants can be more expensive than non-biodegradable lubricants, which can be a barrier for some companies to adopt them
  2. Availability: Biodegradable lubricants are not as widely available as non-biodegradable lubricants, and they may be harder to find in certain regions.
  3. Performance: In some cases, biodegradable lubricants may not perform as well as non-biodegradable lubricants in certain applications. This can be especially true in high-stress or high-temperature environments.
  4. Compatibility: Biodegradable lubricants may not be compatible with certain types of equipment or materials. It’s important to check the compatibility of the lubricant with the equipment before use.
  5. Misuse of the term “biodegradable”: The term “biodegradable” is not regulated, some lubricants may be labeled as biodegradable but may not be broken down in the environment in a reasonable time frame.
  6. Misconceptions: Some people might think that biodegradable lubricants can be disposed of in any way, however, they should be handled and disposed of in the same manner as conventional lubricants.
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In summary, biodegradable lubricants can be a good choice for certain applications, but it’s important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages before making a decision.

What is Biodegradable and Non Biodegradable Waste And How it Effect Nature:

Biodegradable waste is waste that can be broken down by natural biological processes into simpler, harmless compounds such as carbon dioxide, water, and compost. Examples of biodegradable waste include food scraps, yard waste, and paper products.

Non-biodegradable waste is waste that does not decompose or break down in the environment. Examples of non-biodegradable waste include plastic, metal, glass, and electronic waste. These materials can persist in the environment for hundreds of years and can be harmful to wildlife and ecosystems.

It’s important to note that just because something is biodegradable, it doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. Organic waste such as food scraps, if not managed properly can produce methane which is a potent greenhouse gas and contribute to air pollution. Also, biodegradable waste should be processed in appropriate facilities such as composting and recycling centers where it can be broken down properly and not just thrown away to decompose in nature.

On the other hand, non-biodegradable waste should be properly disposed of in recycling centers or special facilities to minimize the impact on the environment.


Is silicone and lithium grease biodegradable?

Silicone and lithium grease are not biodegradable lubricants. They are made from synthetic materials, such as silicone and lithium, that do not break down easily in the environment. They are typically used in industrial, automotive, and household applications.

Silicone lubricants are used in applications where high temperature and chemical resistance are required and do not contain any organic compounds, which are required for biodegradability.
Lithium grease is a type of lubricant that is made from lithium soap and mineral oil, and it is not biodegradable. It is commonly used in industrial and automotive applications, such as gears and bearings, where a high-pressure lubricant is needed.

It’s important to note that just because a lubricant is not biodegradable, it doesn’t mean it’s not environmentally friendly. Both silicone and lithium grease are considered relatively low toxic and not persistent in the environment, they are also not harmful to human health, they should be handled and disposed of in the same manner as conventional lubricants.

Is WD-40 cancerous?

WD-40 is a lubricant and rust preventative product that has been used for many years in a wide variety of applications. It is made of a mixture of ingredients, including mineral oil, lubricating agents, and anti-corrosion agents.

Some of the ingredients in WD-40 have raised concerns about potential health risks, particularly in regard to exposure to the aerosol spray. The company states that WD-40 is not carcinogenic. However, inhaling the spray mist or vapor can cause respiratory irritation and should be avoided. The company also advises to avoid prolonged skin contact with the product, and if it happens, to wash the affected area with soap and water.
It’s important to note that, like any chemical product, WD-40 should be used in a well-ventilated area, and the label instructions should be followed carefully. Also, if someone experiences any adverse effects after using the product, they should seek medical attention.

It is always recommended to use personal protective equipment when using any chemical products and to follow the product’s label instructions to ensure safe usage.


2. Ponnekanti Nagendramma, Savita Kaul, 2012, Development of ecofriendly/biodegradable lubricants: An overview, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 16 (1), 764-774.

3.Shubrajit Bhaumik, M. Kamaraj, 2021, Artificial neural network and multi-criterion decision making approach of designing a blend of biodegradable lubricants and investigating its tribological properties, Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part J: Journal of Engineering Tribology, 235 (8), 1575-1589.



About the Author:

Dr.Shubrajit Bhaumik has been working in the area of tribology for past 15 years, He has published several scientific articles in reputed journals of tribology and has also a patent to his credit. He can be reached at


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