An ECL Compatible Oil or Lubricant... What Is It?


Luc tanguay, Enviro-Énergie Distribution
Special Collaboration


An oil-based lubricant containing additives can be considered “eco compatible” if it is biodegradable and nontoxic to flora, fauna and humans through ingestion, inhalation, skin or eye contact. Any additional features which focus on potential accumulation, the nature of emissions
and/or factors and aspects of renewable materials can have a favorable environmental impact.

Risk assessment of a chemical product is an operation that seeks to characterize the toxicity of the product and the possibility of exposure, as well as to ascertain the potential impact on human and environmental health. Eco Compatible Lubricant oils (ECL) are easily recognizable because they have country-specific labels: Blue Angel in Germany, PA in Sweden, European Eco Label on a European level, etc…

From where and how these “green” oils are produced? There are several kinds and we can identify four main sources: They are readily distinguishable from each other by their performance and features.

First are the vegetable bases such as soya, rapeseed and canola oils. Aside from being expensive, they are also less efficient due to their lower resistance to oxidation which results in a rapid deterioration and frequent oil drain (every 1000 h). Moreover, their fluidity in cold weather is often poor which makes them difficult to use in winter conditions.

These are closely followed by the unsaturated esters, which provide a slight improvement in resistance to oxidation and pour point. However, considering they are part of the synthetic oil family, their performance is inadequate in terms of longevity, (3000 to 4000 h), and they are susceptible to hydrolysis for which the quality versus value ratio makes the price hard to handle.

Certain glycols make up third source and offer interesting properties of biodegradability and eco toxicity. They are usually preferred for their fire-resistant characteristics, though they create significant constraints to users because these fluids are incompatible with a wide variety of gaskets, paint and other coatings, as well as soft metals. Moreover, glycol being an aqueous fluid, it becomes occasionally necessary to calibrate the TAN (antioxidant) value because evaporation or water seepage can affect it. Subsequently, as these fluids have a higher density, care must be taken to pressurize the hydraulic tank in order to prevent the risk of cavitation.

In the last group we find the oils made from saturated synthetic esters, some of which have certain exceptional thermo-oxidative resistance properties exceptionally allowing them to be classified as “Fill for Life” or no replacement needed, this being based on the life a hydraulic pump. The saturated synthetic esters oil-based formulation was the choice of Panolin, who claims a life expectancy of between 6 and 8 times longer over its Panolin HLP Synth oil when compared to conventional mineral hydraulic oils.

Environmental Impact
Environmentally-friendly (ECL) lubricants must pass rigorous toxicology and eco toxicology tests and meet technical requirements as defined by the product manufacturers (for anti-wear performance and resistance to oxidation). Further environmental tests are conducted to measure the lubricants biodegradability.

In fact, naturally occurring “aerobic” bacteria in the environment eliminate the ECL lubricants, while non-biodegradable lubricants can affect the ecosystem for many years. The use of ECL products is recommended and in some countries mandatory regulation is in place to protect areas deemed sensitive against pollution hazards. Contact with lubricants containing toxic substances can dangerously affect mammals and fish. Yet non-toxic lubricants can be equally hazardous to wildlife by covering them with oil film and interfering with their respiratory system.

“Bio” Oil
The rheological properties of saturated ester-based lubricants ensure proper lubrication of equipment in all operating conditions – whether from cold start to continuous operation at high temperatures. Saturated esters offer optimal viscosities in all temperature ranges. A low freezing point guarantees its pumpability at low temperatures and a high natural viscosity index ensures a protective film, whatever the temperature. The main advantages are: Saving resources; a drastic decrease of machine downtime for oil changes, which are potentially risky, not to mention the reduction in product inventory (new oil, used oil). Major machinery manufacturers are now looking for reliable solutions for environmental lubricants.

Though the purchase price is still significant, Panolin, who is recognized as a world leader in the field of biodegradable lubricants, offers an efficient solution. Panolin recommends direct filling of the biodegradable oil at the manufacturer’s plant location in order to avoid long and expensive operation conversions (in the case of an excavator, about 2 x 8 hours of work and 1.5 times the tank volume).

Primary biodegradation is generally distinguished by the minimum change or transformation in which the primary physical characteristics of a compound changes while leaving a substantial part of the molecule intact. (According to Standard CEC L-33 A-93, reserved only for the oil for 2 stroke engines.)

Following primary biodegradation is secondary biodegradation and this is divided into two distinct categories.

The first category: The biodegradability “potential, inherent or intrinsic” - is defined as having the ability to biodegrade without temporal indication or degree of biodegradation. The latter would be achieved under optimum conditions. There are many lubricants on the market displaying an inherent biodegradability.

These types of products can persist in the environment, and they are typically inorganic-based with a biodegradation rate of only between 20 % and 60% in 28 days (according to standard OECD and therefore should not even be considered legitimate for environmental protection. Note that even a conventional mineral oil may have a level of biodegradability of 30% to 35% (depending on viscosity), and some mineral-based lubricant manufacturers use a play on words to capitalize on the fact that users are uninformed on biodegradable lubricants.

Second category: Biodegradation “basic, total or ultimate” – This is a phase where the molecules are completely converted into a finished product and non-hazardous forming biomass and mineral elements such as CO2 (aerobic fitness) or CH4 (anaerobic condition). Products in this category display a level of biodegradability and must have a biodegradation exceeding 60% in 28 days (according to standard OECD). Only these lubricants can be considered eco-compatible.

In conclusion, it is important to learn just how biodegradable the oil that is being proposed to you is before investing time and money in the conversion of your equipment. Be sure to choose the lubricants that provide basic biodegradation, total or ultimate. By doing this, you will avoid unbelievably costly surprises.

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