A team of researchers from the University of Huelva has developed an environmentally-friendly lubricating grease based on ricin oil and cellulose derivatives, according to the journal Green Chemistry. The new formula does not include any of the contaminating components used to manufacture traditional industrial lubricants.
“The objective of this research was to develop a product that could be used as a lubricating grease but that was made only from natural materials and was therefore 100% biodegradable”, José María Franco, a chemical engineer at the University of Huelva and co-author of the study published recently in Green Chemistry, tells SINC.
Environmentally-friendly greases are “oleogels” that use cellulose derivatives from plants and ricin oil (from a bush in the Euphorbiaceae family) as a lubricant base. Franco says these new formulations are “an alternative to traditional lubricating greases, which create pollution that is difficult to combat once discharged into the environment”.
Lubricants used in industry are made from non-biodegradable components, such as synthetic oils or petroleum derivatives, and thickeners made with metallic soaps or polyurea derivatives (a family of synthetic polymers). These are currently the best performers, but they also imply more problems from an environmental perspective.
Millions of tonnes of hydraulic and industrial oils, and others from machinery, are discharged each year into rivers, the sea and fields. Mineral-based oils can contaminate groundwater for more than 100 years, and can prevent the growth of trees and prove toxic to aquatic life.
Only partial solutions have been found to date for this problem, such as substituting mineral oil for vegetable ones, but no alternatives had been found to the metallic thickeners, which are also highly polluting. The new green grease provides an answer, although the scientists admit that “more research is needed” in order to perfect its lubricating and anti-wear performance.