Did you know? Klüber Lubrication is a pioneer in the development of environmentally friendly lubricants. You might have products for wind or food industry in mind, but this article refers surprisingly mainly to the marine industry. It is about biodegradable products that are unique with exceptional performance characteristics designed for special customer requirements. These products are unique because they are not only composed of defined ingredients, but also include our own raw materials made by pre-development at our R&D laboratories.
Not every pre-development work and research makes it all the way into our products. A lot has to happen in order to have a new invention at hand that can actually be used in a lubricant and have the product sold to customers worldwide. Typical hurdles are technology maturity, cost-benefit considerations and often very long and costly registrations.
However, sometimes you find a real star. Our polymerized sunflower oil is such an example of a breakthrough discovery. Today, this base oil is very successfully being used as exclusive Klüber Lubrication raw material for some of our bio-products, providing excellent lubricity, stability, high viscosity as well as biodegradability, all based on 100% renewable sunflower oil. A great innovation in terms of sustainability!
We talked to Dr. Maximilian Erhard who works for Klüber Lubrication in China where he holds the position of R&D manager.
Maximilian, you followed an interesting career path where you got around a lot. Could you tell us in your own words how you came to Klüber Lubrication?
Dr. Erhard: After my PhD and post-doc at Bristol University, UK, I was seeking for an innovative company that would enable me to apply my chemical skills, but also challenge me in new ways. Klüber Lubrication offered me exactly such a position back in 2014 with the prospect of moving to the parent company Freudenberg in Weinheim; Germany for two years and working with renewable raw materials to create high performance bio-lubricants. I knew it would not only satisfy the researcher inside me, but also provide me with a chance to make products more environmentally friendly.
Today you are responsible for all product development projects at our R&D laboratories in China. How do you see the topic "biodegradable products" in the Asian markets? Is it a big topic as it is in Europe?
Dr. Erhard: The biggest push by far for biodegradable and environmentally friendly lubricants has been the release of the renewed Vessel General Permit (VGP) under the US administration in 2013. This law demands that any vessel going into US waters is to run on environmentally acceptable lubricants (EAL) if technically feasible. Ships entering US waters will usually also travel in other parts of the world. Oil changes for these types of vessels are extremely expensive and ship owners want to reduce maintenance work to an absolute minimum. Switching from bio to non-bio outside of US waters is therefore not an option. The VGP has effectively changed the lubricant landscape for the marine industry on a worldwide scale. And: It also affects ship owners in Asia, of course. Anyway, environmentally friendly lubricants are not yet as important as they may be already in the European market. There is, however, a strong push by the Chinese government lately towards environmentally protective measures. We already have development projects that were initiated by sharper environmental controls, for example an oil that produces less smoke during high temperature operations.
But finally, how good is the performance of those new biodegradable products compared to, let’s say, “standard lubricants”?
Dr. Erhard: The results of our bio products are great. We already showed in the past that bio in a lubricant no longer stands for a compromise of a product being green, but having weaker technical performance. With our latest generation of Klüberbio products, we have extremely strong lubricant performance, often much better than the direct mineral oil-based competition, and the products are also biodegradable and non-toxic, providing the best of both worlds.