Innovation in raw materials
A discussion about the current innovation status for raw material used in lubricant production.
When talking about innovation in a lubricant raw material context, it becomes imperative to remember that the actual performance of the lubricant never should be jeopardized – on the contrary lubricant innovation should enhance the already immense value add that the utilization itself has. Without lubricants the worlds energy use would most likely double, machine parts would constantly wear down, or simply not be able to move. A telling example is that without lubricants the processing of any fabric material to make clothing would not be possible. Therefore any innovation needs to be on par the current one or better.
Bio-based lubricants have been found to exhibit superior properties over the conventional mineral lubricants, with renewability and biodegradability being their strongest suit. Companies that are inventing and specializing in new bio-based raw materials for production of synthetic lubricants have lately been successful especially in the US. Discussing innovation in this context may be daunting for a 140 year old chemical company like Perstorp. Many of our innovations are 60 plus years and counting. One of our main products – Pentaerythritol, named Penta - was invented back in 1880s and has been in Perstorp’s production since 1960s. So while we have a stable and essential chemical that has been proven in a multiple use cases like polyol esters, one can wonder if there is a dilemma for Perstorp to be innovative with an “old” molecule. The answer is no, as we have never stopped innovating.
When looking at lubricants there are two areas of innovation, direct and indirect, that an upstream chemical company like Perstorp influences. The first is the innovation in the production of our raw materials. As an example, in 2010 Perstorp launched Voxtar – first Penta with renewable content, bioacetaldehyde, and later a fully renewable Penta with bioacetaldehyde and biomethanol thus replacing virgin fossil raw material and lowering the product carbon footprint. Now this innovation did not occur in isolation but is grounded in our history of seeking out the best and most sustainable raw materials and continuously striving to optimize production, the use and repurposing of both primary products and co-products. This work continues also today with Project Air, which when implemented will secure the supply of sustainable methanol for our production needs of renewable, low carbon footprint products in Europe.
The second area of innovation is with our products, namely acids and alcohols used as building blocks in the synthesis of esters. Here we see that our products serve as a toolbox solution for polyol ester manufacturers. Polyol ester chemistry is highly versatile and esters can be tuned for the specific requirements of a lubricant or grease, the typical being viscosity. So innovation in polyols esters can feasible start from specifying the requirements of the end application. By understanding the value chain and defining the customer needs we can continue to offer innovative solutions that meets purpose and performance requirements.
When it comes to sustainable raw materials, Perstorp is often questioned about our approach to bio-based. It is important to keep in mind the drivers of bio-based raw materials, such as USDA Bio-Preferred program, whose mission is to create new end markets in agriculture. Or the health & cosmetic industries request for bio-based materials as a driver. But deriving these materials should not to infringe on human rights or the protection of the environment. Here the importance of traceability and transparency is imperative. Some bio materials are already being restricted such as the EU ban on palm oil due to deforestation and destroying biodiversity. Canola is a far better choice because of its ability to grow in near arid mountainous areas and because it creates opportunities for farmers. But even though it is a ‘wonder bean’ canola cannot sustain all the raw materials for lubricants that our society needs.
Perstorp does not make claims on bio-based nor do we market our Pro-Environment products as bio-based. However we do utilize biomass as the origin of the raw materials we use. But since any single source raw material implies the risk of becoming excessively used and either depleted or produced on the cost of people and environment, Perstorp has a more holistic thinking with the ambition of becoming finite material neutral. This approach allows us, in a controlled and certified manner, applying ISCC PLUS, to take on a number of different renewable and recycled sources both first generation biomass, e.g. farmed crop such as tops of beets or corn and second generation bio mass, like organic waste. This for one guarantees a security of supply and allows us, one molecule at a time, to switch ‘black’ virgin fossil carbons to renewable ones, but also opens up for new innovative raw material sources via fermentation or carbon capture and re-refining and recycling of building blocks. As long as the source is sustainable and not finite, lowers the carbon footprint, including manufacturing and that the raw material as well as the process can be traced and calculated in order not to make false claims, Perstorp is in the business of enabling sustainable downstream value chains and future circular ones. Being ISCC PLUS certified and only using ISCC PLUS certified raw materials also helps Perstorp secure that sustainability criteria, both social and ecological, are fulfilled throughout the value chain, eg. deforestation-free supply chains and compliance with human, labor and land rights.
Remember that a partner in the value chain is never greener than their supplier.