Biolubricants for a low impact solution


Biolubricants for a low-impact solution

Based on a market-driven appproach, Trelleborg has invested heavily in R&D so that customers can make use of a new generation of biolubricants.

As companies look for more sustainable ways of doing business, the use of biolubricants is on the rise. Designed to rapidly biodegrade and to be nontoxic to both humans and aquatic life, such lubricants are typically based on vegetable oils rather than mineral oils derived from crude oil. 

Biolubricants can include hydraulic oils and oils for engines, axles and gears. They are commonly used in agricultural equipment, including cranes, tractors and load carriers, to avoid potential soil toxicity in an environment where food is produced. 

Trelleborg is playing a key role in the adoption of such sustainable lubricants through its work in developing compatible sealing solutions. 

Joe Savina is a fluid power application engineer at Trelleborg Sealing Solutions in the United States. He explains that special design consideration is required because of how such lubricants may react to equipment components and seal materials. 

“Hydraulic fluids and seal materials are similar in that both are extremely complex and variable in regard to their formulation,” Savina says. “Environmentally-friendly hydraulic fluids, like all hydraulic fluids, have considerable variation in their formulations not only in the selection and blending of the base stocks but also in the variety of additives that can be chosen to give required properties.” 

Savina says Trelleborg has invested significantly in R&D to ensure that the company’s sealing materials are compatible with the majority of biolubricants on the market. Because the chemistry between the lubricant and seal is so complex, he advises companies wanting to explore biolubricant use to work closely with Trelleborg in selecting the optimal sealing solution.

The first step in achieving a suitable lubricant and seal match is to clearly communicate the performance requirements and component-fluid compatibilities to the seal and fluid supplier. “Although environmentally-friendly and biodegradable, hydraulic fluids are well classified,” Savina explains, “there are still too many
variations inside the classifications to make sweeping generalizations regarding chemical compatibility.” 

Consideration should also be given to whether the new lubricant is compatible with the existing one. “Mixing fluids that are not compatible may cause filtering, de-foaming and water separation issues, to name a few,” Savina says. “The general result is a fluid that is less than the sum of its parts. Some additives in one formulation can negate the function of additives in the other formulation.”

Savina also advises looking at whether the new fluid is compatible with the current sealing system. “Determine early in your design process the compatibility of currently familiar seal materials to avoid setting up a situation in which you have no choice but to make drastic changes to your seal supply or seal design,” he says. “Availability and cost are major drivers in seal selection, and having an unplanned change of materials can greatly reduce your options. Seal compatibility goes far beyond a 70-hour soak test, although that is a good place to start if no data is available.”

Finally, it’s important when specifying seal material to be as specific as possible. “If experience with the fluid is not supplying an acceptable amount of confidence, specifying a compound recipe is recommended,” Savina says. “The interactions of seal materials and hydraulic fluids are very complex, and very different results can occur based on the interacting chemistries.” 

By following these steps, companies aiming to use biolubricants in sensitive environments should achieve a high degree of success.

Common uses for biolubricants

Many businesses are now using biolubricants as a way to increase the sustainability of their operations. Some of the common locations where biolubricants can befound include:
  • Agricultural machines such as tractors and harvesters
  • Forestry equipment such as log loaders, forwarders and chainsaws
  • Machines used at ski facilities including lifts, snowmobiles and vehicles used for grooming
  • Vessels and equipment used on sensitive waterways, including dredgers, trawlers and lock-operating equipment.

This is an article has been reproduced from Trelleborg's T-Time magazine. To download the latest edition, go to: 

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