What are synthetic lubricants and how do they contribute to energy efficiency?

 28th Oct 2013

A brief explanation of how synthetic lubricants are produced

crude hydrocarbonsCommonly referred to as crude oil or simply crude, crude petroleum is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons. Although they do all possess the same basic elements, crudes from different sources are somewhat dissimilar in chemical composition. Atmospheric distillation removes the light gases such as ethane, methane, butane and propane.  To remove undesirable components such as asphalt, waxes and sulphur compounds, a number of sophisticated refining techniques are used.  Mineral lubricants stocks are derived from the residuum left over when gasoline and other fuels are distilled from crude.  

Despite the degree of refinement, the lubricating oil base stock still contains organic compounds of oxygen, sulphur and nitrogen as well as small amounts of inorganic substances. The point is, there are thousands of compounds present in crude oil and some will remain in lubricating oil stocks no matter what.

Synthetic products are produced when chemical reactions are carefully controlled by their pressure, temperature and the ratio of component elements.  This results in a pure compound with predictable properties and unvarying molecule size.

Synthetic Lubricants are more energy efficient

A very uniform molecular size is accomplished due to the controlled manufacturing of synthetic base oils. This in turn reduces the traction coefficient of the synthetic lubricant. The force required to move a load divided by the load is the traction coefficient of a lubricant. The coefficient stands for the ease with which the lubricant film is sheared.

Mobil synthetic lubricants display up to 30% improvement over mineral oils when measuring the traction coefficient, due to their uniform molecular size. Imagine dragging a large box across a tray full of marbles. The uniform size of the marbles means the load is distributed evenly and less force is needed to move the load. This roughly demonstrates that less force means less energy input to perform a given amount of work.

marblesThe same concept can be translated to a typical industrial gear reducer. During operation the gear teeth slide across each other shearing the lubricant in the tooth mesh. As in our marble analogy, the lower the traction coefficient, the lower the energy dissipated. Lower amperage draw on the electric motor and reduced lubricant/gear temperature will also be noticed. Tests have shown that switching to low traction synthetic oil consumes less power in a spur/helical gear by 0.5 for each reduction, and up to 8% for high reduction worm gears.

In a gear box, energy is consumed either through motion or through heat transfer. All heat generated is equivalent to an energy loss. Therefore, reduction of temperature in the gear box results in less energy being wasted and the motor requires less energy to produce the same amount of work.  This effect has been well documented both in the laboratory and in field applications.

The dramatic impact of synthetic lubricants in a worm gear reducer is shown in the following thermographs. While oil sump temperature is decreased by 13F, the efficiency of the gear box is increased by 2%. Lower temperature and increased efficiency can translate to reduced operating costs and longer component life.

WP Group recommended MOBIL DTE 10 EXCEL to one of its major utilities customers when they were looking to reduce energy usage on STW aeration plant.

Energy EfficiencyA 14 month trial conclusively proved significantly reduced kWhr consumption on blower equipment, the most costly plant equipment in operation across the network.

The actual savings of up to 4.7% represent annualised expenditure savings of up to £600,000.

The organisations are now working together to implement other power savings and performance benefits in gearbox , compressor , pump and hydraulic areas.

To find out how employing Mobil synthetic lubricants can save you money, click here to visit our Mobil Energy Calculator.

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