The Environmental Benefits of Synthetic Lubricants - Quantified

 5th Jun 2015

Sustainability is an increasingly important business objective for industrial operations and the general public, alike. But, have you ever wondered whether some of the environmentally conscious behaviors that we engage in daily, actually provide tangible environmental benefits? For example, does manufacturing a product from recycled material in fact use more energy than generating a product from scratch?

While the answer is obviously quite complex, the key is to always consider the full life cycle of the process ­ from raw material acquisition, to manufacturing and distribution, to disposal of the product.

To that end, ExxonMobil recently conducted a life cycle assessment (LCA) of their popular Mobil SHC™ 600 Series synthetic gear oils to quantify the performance and sustainability-related benefits they can deliver.  The LCA compared the synthetic and conventional lubes based on their net environmental impact from lubricant manufacturing all the way through end of service life.

Over a six-year period, test results affirmed that using synthetic lubricants can help operators achieve significant environmental advantages due to longer oil drain intervals.

Furthermore, the study demonstrated that Mobil SHC™ 630 synthetic gear and bearing oil can offer improved efficiency benefits of up to two percent over the course of the full product life cycle when compared to conventional oil.

So, what does the lubricant life cycle entail and why is it relevant to the environmental benefits of a product?

The typical life cycle of a lubricant begins with the extraction of raw materials, moves through the manufacturing and use stage, and ends at the point where the used oil is recovered for energy. In this study, the lubricant life cycle stages included:

  • Base stock production
  • Additive production
  • Transport of raw materials, base stocks and additives
  • Finished lubricant blending
  • In-service usage as a vehicle or gearbox lubricant
  • Energy savings benefits for the lubricated equipment
  • Disposal and end-of-life ­ where the used oil is recovered for energy at an industrial facility

In a standard lubricant life cycle, most associated emissions result from energy consumption during the customer use phase. As a result, even a small reduction in energy use at a customer site can significantly impact the environmental footprint of an operation.

To assess the efficiency benefits of synthetic lubricants, we modeled the use of Mobil SHC 630 lubricants in a 2.5kW gear drive with an oil capacity of 0.8 liters over the course of six years. During this time, we compared the Mobil SHC 630 performance to a conventional, mineral-based Mobil industrial oil, taking into account the entire lubricant life cycle ­ from the extraction of raw materials to the end-of-life phase.

Excluding gear drive energy use, the assessment revealed that Mobil SHC™ 630 provided up to a 50 percent reduction in negative human health, ecosystem quality and climate change effects compared to conventional oils over the full product life cycle. Additionally, the energy efficiency benefit provided by Mobil SHC 630 not only reduced the environmental impact during use, it more than offset the impact incurred during manufacturing.

Besides the environmental benefits identified in the assessment, synthetic lubricants have also been shown to offer a range of other advantages. They can provide improved stability in high-temperature operations, excellent resistance to oxidation, low-temperature flow properties, and increased protection against wear and corrosion.

Clearly, converting lubricants from conventional oils and greases to synthetic products can provide measurable sustainability benefits. However, navigating this transition can be challenging, particularly when doing so across multiple operations.  In addition to customer support, we are currently working with industry associations and ISO 50001 consultants in Europe to help customers achieve energy efficiency goals with our synthetic lubricants.

As you consider the potential environmental benefits of synthetic lubricants in your operations, it’s important to partner with an experienced supplier. ExxonMobil field engineers and distributors can help you decide if investing in a synthetic lubricant will deliver the sustainability benefits you seek through improved productivity, safety and environmental care.


"The Environmental Benefits of Synthetic Lubricants - Quantified" by, Terry Woram used with permission of the Mobil SHCTM Club (all rights reserved.)

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