When it comes to protecting the environment, we all need to do our part. In the oil industry, that means working hard to prevent improper disposal and spilling of oil and to produce ever-improving environmentally friendly products. The latter has made great strides in recent years, but we still have more work to do as we strive for superior environmentally friendly and sustainable options for our petroleum-based products.

So have you considered trying a more environmentally friendly lubricant for your operation? If so, here are a few things to consider as you determine whether today’s environmentally friendly lubricants are right for you:

1. Biodegradable is the most environmentally friendly term.

I​f your goal is truly to be as environmentally friendly as possible, look for the term “biodegradable” as opposed to “bio-based”, “eco-friendly”, or “green”. Like everything else, labels for lubricants can be misleading. Just because an oil is labeled as “green” doesn’t mean that it is truly good for the environment. It might just be free from heavy metals or some other minor distinction, but it is not 100% plant-based unless it is labeled as biodegradable. Even the closely related term “bio-based” only guarantees that a product is partially plant-based.

2. Environmentally friendly lubricants are better at reducing friction.

Y​es, you read that right. Vegetable-based oils actually do have some advantages above and beyond being environmentally friendly. Some lubricants made with vegetable oils have actually been found to have greater lubricity and higher flash points - making them both more efficient and safer to use. Better for the environment AND better for your operation, what’s not to like?

3. Temperature sensitivity is the major downfall.​

If there’s one major catch when it comes to plant-based lubricants, this is it. Due to the organic nature of the product’s composition, lubricants made with vegetable oil suffer from inferior oxidation and thermal stability. This means that biodegradable lubricants are more susceptible to decomposition at extremely high temperatures. On the other end of the spectrum, biodegradable lubricants can also become very viscous (thick and sticky) in extremely cold temperatures, which can cause them to be difficult to apply and to fail to lubricate properly.

4. Biodegradable lubricants have a limited shelf life. ​

As with most organic, plant-based products, shelf life is more of a concern with biodegradable lubricants. Why? Because exposure to oxygen over time degrades the composition of the oil. If you’re used to planning out your lubricant order well in advance (as is possible with mineral or synthetic oils), be careful or you might just end up with a bunch of expired biodegradable oil on your hands.

5. Vegetable and petroleum oils don’t always mix. ​

If you’ve been using mineral or synthetic-based oils, your new plant-based oil might not be compatible. Petroleum and vegetable oils have a different composition which can sometimes cause them to separate and become more viscous when combined. Always be sure to ask your supplier about whether or not a new biodegradable oil is compatible with your previously used types of oils.

Now that you know some of the pros and cons of biodegradable and environmentally friendly lubricants, we hope that you will be able to make a more informed decision about the best oil base for your operations. If you’re still unsure and want more information, contact the oil experts at General Petroleum, Inc. We look forward to helping you choose the best products for your unique operation as we strive to provide greater and more sustainable lubrication options for your operation’s future.