Over the last decade the total lubricant consumption in the EU-15 dropped. (15 was the number of member countries in the European Union prior to the accession of ten candidate countries on 1 May 2004. The EU-15 comprised: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.) This was mainly due to the improved service life of lubricants. In 1999, the biolubricant market was only 2% of the total European lubricant market. This included lubricants based on vegetable oil and animal fat as well as completely synthetic lubricants. The European Ecolabel for Lubricants (EEL) and other ecolabels for lubricants mainly pertain to industrial lubricants.
Between 1996 and 2003, the market share of lubricants in the Netherlands rose from 1.3 to 3.6%. In 2000, it peaked at 6%, possibly because this was a peak year with regard to investments in mobile machines (146 million euros in investments compared to 62 million in 2003). Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has not published data on lubricants consumption after 2003.
Figure 1a: lubricant consumption in EU-15; 4,75 million tonnes/year (2004)
Figure 1a, which was based on various public Internet sources around 2004, shows the lubricant consumption, with specified types of lubricants in the EU-15. More recent studies show that over the past few years, there has been a rise in the consumption of (industrial and automobile) gear box oil and hydraulic fluids. In contrast, there has been a drop in the consumption of metalworking oils and greases. The percentage of biolubricants in the total (EU-15) lubricant market rose to 3.6% in 2007.
Figure 1b illustrates great differences in the share of biolubricants in the total consumption per type (and per application). The synthetic esters in figure 1b can be produced based on vegetable oils and animal fats as well as on a mineral oil base. In practice, this varies from almost 0% to 100% (aircraft turbine oil). Biolubricants are a comparatively large segment of the consumption of (among others) chainsaw oil, aircraft turbine oil and compressor oil. In absolute terms, there is a considerable consumption of environmentally-friendly hydraulic fluids, metalworking oil, motor oil, chainsaw oil and concrete release agents. However, the relative share of biodegradable automobile engine oil and gear box oil is still small.
The use in low-tech and high-tech applications suggests that biolubricants can be a viable and lasting alternative to mineral lubricants.
Figure 1b: percentage of biolubricants in the EU-15 consumption; 172,000 tonnes/year (2004)
Various sources report that, compared to the costs of mineral-based lubricants, the prices of semi-vegetable (synthetic) lubricants are higher by a factor of 1.5-2, and that the prices of (mineral) synthetic lubricants are higher by a factor of 2-5.
Even though the purchasing costs of biolubricants are higher than those of their mineral counterparts, the added advantages of biolubricants are often not sufficiently mentioned in replacement reports. For instance, the operational costs of (semi-vegetable, synthetic) biolubricants tend to decrease, due to longer intervals between oil changes. Lower cleaning costs with regard to accidents, increased operational time, lower wear, prolonged machine service life and improved public relations due to biolubricants are usually not taken into account when calculating the total cost of ownership (TCO).
The current lack of European legislation enforcing the use of biolubricants is regarded as an important barrier for the promotion of biolubricants. The European Ecolabel played an important role in the 16 July 2008 proposal for ambitious goals regarding Green Public Procurement (sustainable purchasing), which was submitted by the European Committee. The biolubricants market could profit from these resolutions.
Harmonising definitions and improving the availability of biolubricants of at least similar and often better technical performance ensures that the EU biolubricants market has the potential to grow beyond the current 3.6%. This particularly applies to the various applications of total loss lubricants.