Chapter 7
Use and Development of Biodegradable Oils


Modern society's impact on the environment, and the possibility that the earth's natural systems are being damaged, is clear to everybody. There is a lot of discussion about the size and effects of this impact, but, in general, it is clear that our present levels of interference with ecological systems are unsustainable. The current view is that the depletion of scarce resources and increasing environmental pollution cannot continue in the same way for the next 50 years, as they have in the past 50, without drastically affecting our quality of life. Industry's environmental philosophy should change from “end-of-pipe” postproduction cleanup to a system of prevention and reduction. Engineers will have to start to meet customer expectations by delivering solutions that are technically viable, commercially feasible and, above all, environmentally sustainable. The environment, as a new factor in the design process, increases the focus on processes and product improvements that are designed to prevent environmental problems.

Lubricants, some of which are lost to the environment in significant quantities, can affect plants, animals and human life. It has been estimated that the fate of around 1 million tons per annum—20% of the total consumption—of the lubricants used in the European Union (EU) are unaccounted for. Three major aspects relating to the environmental impact of lubricants need to be addressed: development of constructive solutions to minimize losses, minimization of the impact of losses if they occur, and the efficient collection and treatment of waste material. Minimizing the impact of losses will be described in this section.

Recently, the idea that lubricants should cause less harm to the environment has been promoted, driven by the trend toward sustainable development, especially in central and northern Europe. There is, however, still some confusion regarding the naming of these lubricants. They are often referred to as environmentally friendly, environmentally acceptable, environmentally compatible or environmentally adapted. “Adapted” is probably the most sensible description, because it is hard to imagine that any lubricating substance would not possess at least some aspects that could be described as “friendly,” “acceptable” or “compatible” [1]. The lubricant industry has produced environmentally adapted lubricants that are readily biodegradable, in terms of one of the several internationally recognized test methods, and that have a low toxic effect on water organisms. Since certain lubricants may form biodegradation by-products that are more toxic than the original, the overall environmental impact of a lubricant can only be established by conducting a life-cycle assessment (LCA).

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The Ecological Assessment of Lubricants
  • 3. Biodegradable Materials
  • 4. Technical Features
  • 5. Applications of Environmentally Adapted Lubricants
  • 6. Summary and Prospects
  • Abbreviations
  • References

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