Ecological Vs. Biodegradable Lubricants – A Comparison

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Within the industrial sector, every day it is more common to hear words such as biodegradable, sustainable or ecological. But do we know what they really mean? Do we know the differences between ecological and biodegradable lubricants? As time passes, these terms have been gaining strength and settling in the market. However, it is important to know the differences between all these “eco-friendly” terminologies and pay attention to the certifications.

What are the differences between ecological and biodegradable lubricants?

One of the main reasons for this recent green initiative is the growing awareness and demand for using products that are safer for the environment. On the other hand, another key fact for this change in the industrial model is the fact that mineral reserves derived from oil are finite resources.

Environmental safety considers concepts such as biodegradability, ecotoxicity, bioaccumulation and renewability. For this reason, it is very important to use environmentally safe lubricants, especially in sensitive applications, such as agriculture, forestry, mining, marine, etc.

What does biodegradable mean?

In simple terms, biodegradable refers to the chemical degradation of a substance, in this case, a lubricant, in the presence of microorganisms or bacteria. Although there are different definitions of biodegradability throughout the industry, perhaps one of the most reasonable is found in ASTM D6064. It describes biodegradability as “a function of the degree of degradation, time, and testing methodology.” There are two measures generally used to measure biodegradability.

1. Primary degradation

It is measured as the reduction of the carbon-hydrogen bond. This is determined with infrared (IR) spectroscopy, which corresponds to the direct measurement of the percentage of decomposition of the lubricant. The most widely used way to measure this degradation is by the L-33-93 test method of the European Coordinating Council (CEC) that runs for 21 days.

2. Secondary degradation

The other type of biodegradability measurement is secondary degradation, which is better known as ‘ultimate biodegradability’. This measures the evolution of carbon dioxide through the degradation process over a period of 28 days. The most common method used to determine ultimate biodegradability is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 301B / ASTM D5864. The benchmark for qualifying a lubricant as biodegradable is whether its biodegradability is more than 80 per cent under the CEC L-33-93 method or more than 60 per cent under the OECD 301B method.

What does ecological mean?

On the other hand, when we talk about ecological lubricants we should not confuse them with ‘bio-lubricants’. “Green” is synonymous with being respectful to the environment, it is probably one of the most attractive terms in the industry, but it can often be misleading if you do not look at the certifications. Some products that are not even based on vegetable oil can be marketed as eco-friendly lubricants. While these types of lubricants may be free of heavy metals and other potentially toxic ingredients, they are not biodegradable.

Consequently, it is important to be careful when selecting such products and to note that green does not necessarily mean biodegradable. Just being green or heavy metal-free does not make a product eco-friendly in the real sense. This requires it to be biodegradable or derived from renewable sources. 

If you are interested in knowing more about ecological and sustainable lubricants, discover KAJO products:

What is a bio-lubricant and what are its advantages?

What is the Ecolabel label and what does it consist of?

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