How Lubricants Affect Climate Change and Our Planet

Martin Williamson

Lubricants and Climate Change

Governments throughout the European community are taking the climate change and environmental concerns seriously. For the end-user, this results in more paperwork, additional costs of production, more compliance, more auditing; the list goes on.

But the issue is a double-edged sword, undoubtedly. Consider this: a little more than 15 years ago, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) introduced its Quality Standards. Although implementation costs were high, most companies utilized them to improve their practices - and that has proven to be of great benefit to all.

Companies implementing changes to meet the requirements of the Climate Change Levy and recent ISO 14001 policies (see sidebar) will benefit in the long-term. Not just financially, but also in the sense of satisfaction that comes from efforts to protect the environment. In the most mercenary of terms, companies cannot afford to risk their image by not complying.

The Climate Change Levy and ISO 14001 do fall short in some respects, and therefore are not the complete solution. Burning fuel causes pollution, recycling paper reduced it.

But what about lubricants? Lubricants come from the same limited reserves as fuels.

Lubricants must be properly disposed of at the end of their useful life. With today’s emphasis on the use of synthetic fluids, these are even more expensive, incurring greater loss of profits.

Know Your Options

Do you know what your site’s total sump and system capacities are? Do you know what your annual lubricant consumption is? If you have access to these numbers, figure the annual consumption ratio by dividing the consumption by the capacity.

This is most likely greater than three. Then figure what proportion of that is leakage. These figures should be documented and regularly updated.

Are you purchasing lubricants based on an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specification, or on your lubricant supplier’s recommendations?

Did your company involve its maintenance group when evaluating your lubricant contract? Setting lubricant specifications may require input from industry experts. The OEM defines its specifications as a baseline for the average user. Your site and applications are unique, so set the standards according to your needs. It is you, not the OEM, who pays the price of failure.

As part of your company’s oil analysis program, how does maintenance handle a questionable oil sample? Is the oil immediately replaced? Take responsibility for oil management onsite. Proactive maintenance requires understanding and responding to failure root causes through effective oil analysis. New oil is not the answer to all problems.

Lubrication is the lifeblood of industry. While money is important to maintain the economy, would there be an economy without lubrication? The wheels of industry would literally grind to a halt. Lubrication is as critical as fuel, as critical as investment and as critical as staff to keep the cogs turning.

Take Time to Learn

Understanding best practices lubricant management is financially rewarding. Many companies which have reached world-class levels in lubrication management have seen reductions of 80 percent in lubricant consumption, reductions of 50 percent in unplanned downtime and equipment failure, and life extension of three times the plant’s capital.

These companies have seen additional benefits. The typical increases of 50 percent or more in production output have been achieved. Increased demand in production was met without building new plants. Their pricing was more competitive, and profits increased.

Maintenance budgets were typically reduced by at least 40 percent without impacting reliability. The overall cost of the lubricant per liter dropped dramatically. Consider the total cost of the lubricant, including purchase costs, disposal or reclamation, handling, administration, inventory, etc. A conservative estimate of the cost of a mineral-based lubricant with everything added in is as much as three times the purchase price.

The Climate Change Levy Discount Scheme

In April 2001, UK businesses became liable for the Climate Change Levy (CCL), an energy tax that adds approximately 15 percent to typical energy bills. Many intensive users of energy are able to join Climate Change Levy Agreements to help lighten the effects of this tax.

Under these agreements, businesses that accept, and subsequently meet energy reduction targets will receive an 80 percent levy discount until the year 2013. More than 40 CCL agreements are in place.

Reducing Power Consumption

One of the key benefits of a proactive maintenance strategy with a focus on lubrication is the reduced demand in power. Some studies suggest that as much as a five percent reduction in power consumption can be achieved on well-lubricated systems.

Consider the problem of increasing power demand as equipment ages. With improved lubrication and contamination control, wear is minimized, power loss is reduced, and the efficiency of the machinery is better maintained.

Reducing Lubricant Disposal

Using lubricants more effectively reduces the current demand on resources. Liquid/gaseous fuels and lubricants are generally derived from the same source. Reducing the consumption of both is necessary to protect the environment.

Not only must lubricant consumption be reduced, but because fuels burn off, the disposal of emissions must also be controlled. When lubricants are consumed, they remain in a liquid, potentially hazardous form that must be disposed of correctly. There are alternatives to straight disposal, such as rerefining or reclamation for other purposes such as fuels.

However, severely exhausted lubricants are often poor candidates for reclamation because they contain harmful acids resulting from excessive oxidation. Better management of the lubricants in service will ensure that they remain at least fit for further use elsewhere.

Leakage management is another key area to address, particularly in the case of outdoor or mobile equipment. Consider a small drop of oil the size of a nickel leaking at the rate of one drop per minute.

That accumulates to more than two liters of oil lost per day. In better-maintained systems, filters must be changed out less frequently, also reducing the effects of oil waste disposal.

Take Responsibility

Everyone must take the responsibility to manage lubricants more effectively by utilizing best practices onsite and corporate-wide. The ultimate responsibility lies with the governing bodies, for it is their job to recognize the impact of lubrication and how it effects the environment. Lobbying groups will hopefully recognize their important role in this process.

End-users must educate their staff, helping them to develop a lubricant-focused proactive maintenance strategy. Seek an audit of your site by an independent expert to establish a Lubricant Efficiency Index (LEI), and use these findings to establish an improvement strategy.

Implement the changes and monitor the site to ensure that the LEI continues to improve. And while the public benefits from your efforts at protecting the environment, your company can enjoy the financial gains.

ISO 14001

Positive Features of the ISO 14001 Standard

ISO 14001, the environmental management system (EMS) standard, institutes a systematic framework for incorporating environmental protection into an overall management strategy. Proponents of the standard are touting ISO 14001 as an important new policy tool for encouraging proactive environmental management and fostering cooperation between industry and the regulatory community.

Several elements of the ISO 14001 standard have positive implications for fostering pollution prevention. First, it is likely that top-level management will view ISO 14000 certification as a competitiveness issue rather than as a cost of compliance issue.

Second, the ISO 14001 standard encourages a holistic approach to improving environmental performance, and establishes a framework for continual improvement.

Third, the standard may foster innovative strategies for improving environmental performance by encouraging all the employees of a given firm to look for ways to reduce environmental impacts. Lastly, the standard is prompting firms all over the world to consider their environmental performance where they otherwise might have little incentive to do so.

Negative Features of the Current Standard

In its present form, ISO 14001 has several potential shortcomings that may reduce its effectiveness in encouraging pollution prevention and limit its ability to spur improvements in environmental performance. To begin with, the standard is a management systems standard, not a performance standard.

Therefore, a firm is not actually required to improve its environmental performance, and may be able to point to ISO certification as proof of its commitment to protecting the environment. Also, the ISO 14001 definition of prevention of pollution fails to distinguish between pollution prevention and pollution control. The standard should not promote inefficient strategies of last-resort as pollution prevention.

Lastly, the standards have been developed without sufficient input from the environmental community and public interest organizations, and the standard does not require sufficient public disclosure of a firm’s environmental impacts.

Pringle, J. (January 28, 1998). National Pollution Prevention Roundtable, ISO 14000 Workgroup, White Paper.


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