Benefits and environmental performance
Ecolabels are mainly geared towards loss lubricants or products that may cause damage to the environment as a result of accidents. Biolubricants have a lower impact on the environment because they pose little threat to surface and marine life (and contain fewer health risks); preferably, they consist primarily of renewable raw materials.
Pollution can be limited by using biolubricants. Biolubricants are also safer with regard to occupational health; they cause less skin irritation, have a higher flash point while also retaining the correct viscosity, contain lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and have a lower emission of VOCs. The use of biolubricants can have a positive influence on costs such as environmental fines, safety fines, by reducing liability and cleaning costs in the event of spills and accidents.
Using biolubricants based on renewable raw materials decreases the dependence on fossil fuels. The current climate crisis has increased awareness of the influence of the application of lubricants on the use of energy by hydraulic engineering objects and installations. And with good reason, too: it is claimed that applying certain lubricants (regardless of whether they carry an ecolabel) may reduce energy costs by as much as 10% to 25%. However, no ecolabel has introduced any such requirement yet.
However, there are criteria that dictate the renewable raw material content. In the European Ecolabel for lubricants, this requirement is set to 50% for hydraulic fluids, 45% for greases and 70% for loss lubricants. The Blue Angel Ecolabel states that the base oil of greases, which constitutes approximately 80% of the final product, needs to consist of either vegetable or synthetic esters. This limits the amount of fossil raw materials and CO2 that are released into the ecosystem. Concerns about the sustainable production of feedstock for base oils has resulted in the development of certification systems for certain feedstocks. Palm oil can be bought certified by the RSPO Soya oil can be bought certified by the RTRS.
The use of biolubricants can, in addition, save more energy because of a higher viscosity index and improved heat transfer. The advantage of a higher viscosity index is that there is a wider range of products available with lower viscosity classes for certain applications of biolubricants. This is not the case with mineral lubricants. The lower viscosity of biolubricants, combined with its improved heat transfer, will sharply reduce energy consumption.
The influence of the applied lubricant on the energy consumption of installations (and on the greenhouse effect and CO2 emissions) is determined primarily by friction. Eventually, wear of parts and the lubricant’s life span can also have an effect. If these effects can be sufficiently and reliably quantified, this could for instance be included in the next revision of the European Ecolabel’s criteria by means of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) studies.
In various European countries and regions, ecolabel institutions have drawn up criteria that lubricants have to meet in order to be allowed to carry an ecolabel. Lubricants can be considered for ecolabels (such as Blue Angel, Swedish Standard or Nordic Swan) if they meet criteria regarding: biodegradability (biodegradation, persistence and bioaccumulation potential), (aquatic) toxicity, renewable raw material content and other environmental and health risks.
A comparison between ecolabels shows that no two labels are the same. In order to harmonise the various definitions, the European Ecolabel for lubricants was created in 2005. Within the current market supply, two classes of biolubricants may be distinguished. For more information refer to: Placing sustainability requirements on purchasing biolubricants (PDF).