89th NLGI Annual Meeting 2022, Toronto

From June 12th to 15th, the 89th annual meeting of the greases American association NLGI was held. On this occasion, the city of Canada, Toronto was the setting that hosted the event, specifically at the Westin Harbor Castle hotel. Despite the ideal environment and suitable spaces for technical presentations and networking, attendance was slightly lower than on other occasions, with an estimated 350 attendees. This may be due to the still existing restrictions and uncertainties caused by the last blows of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the event, trends and challenges common to its European counterpart have been identified: sustainability, product carbon footprint calculations, electric cars, incidental food contact, biodegradability and low toxicity. In all of them, the IQLubricants business strategy that began in 2012 fits perfectly.

In the always representative survey of the NLGI you can see a drop to 2.5 billion Lbs in global grease production in 2020, recovering fantastically to 2.6 billion Lbs in 2021.

As for regions, we can perfectly see how China continues to have higher production levels than Europe and North America combined, with production falling in NA at the same time offset by growth in Europe.

Figure 1. Global grease production by region [%]. Source NLGI 2022 Survey

North America was down slightly, with real growth offset by plant closures

Europe is showing a recovery from a decline in 2019 and 2020

Latin America increased 16% due to real growth and Africa & Middle East was relatively unchanged

India was relatively unchanged from 2020

Japan reported production increased by 17%, apparently due to increased automobile production

Southeast Asia increased by 13% due to real growth and China increased by 6.5% also due to real growth

In relation to thickener trends, the lithium complex continues its upward trend in its consumption, increasing +1.1%, while lithium continues its dramatic decline due to high prices and shortage.

Calcium Sulfonate grease is growing at levels of +6.1%, although production declined significantly in 2021 due to a plant closure. The aluminum complex shows a flat evolution during the study period of 11 years.

Polyurea has remained flat if we focus on global demand at 6% of total production, but we see large variations by region. The greatest drop in the production of polyurea greases is found in NA with 40% as a consequence of the accident produced in 2021 in one of the largest grease production plants in NA, Chemtool Incorporated in Rockton, IL.

Japan and China show the largest production of greases with this thickener with levels of 50 million Lbs/y each.

As for the base oil, conventional mineral oils continue to represent 88%, followed by synthetic 6.5% and semi-synthetic 5%. The use of bio-based oils is continuing to increase slowly from the previous plateau of around 0.5% globally to around 1%.

Figure 2. Global grease production by Base Oil type [%]. Source NLGI 2022 Survey

At the moment, despite post-pandemic indications of acceleration in both market and legislative trends in order to produce more environmentally sustainable greases, the results still indicate a slight increase in the production of biodegradable greases. This indicates that there is still a long way to go both in terms of awareness and technological knowledge.

To remark, an interesting presentation from Prof. Johan Leckner showing a sustainability case study of a bevel gear polypropylene grease. The latest part of the study consist in a life cycle assessment (LCA) evaluating the impact on each SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Making an accurate study of the cradle-to-grave study of the different greases, Prof. Leckner concludes that the impact of the gear overshadow the impact from the greases. It means that to fully understand the change in impacts of a LCA study, it is essential to include the usage phase of the lubricant and the machine element.

Figure 3. LCA case study scheme. Source Bevel gear grease – a sustainability case study - Johan Leckner.

In the next year 2023, the event is held in California, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the annual meeting. It is interesting to know how the grease sector evolves towards a more sustainable future while offering high-performance solutions to the different OEMs.

July 2022.

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