Ingevity insight: Green trend in metalworking fluids

Sep 16, 2020

This quarter’s Ingevity Insight article features an interview with Commercial Global Technical Lead Scott Cheng in which he shares his thoughts on environmentally acceptable lubricants (EAL) and the metalworking fluid (MWF) formulation trends toward “going green.” In this post, we expanded upon a recent Lubes N’ Greases topic “The Green Trend Chips into Metalworking Fluids.”

1. How can you determine if lubricants are compliant with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards?

According to the EPA, the term “environmentally acceptable lubricant” (EAL) is used to describe lubricants that have been demonstrated to meet standards for biodegradability, toxicity and bioaccumulation potential that minimize their likely adverse consequences in the aquatic environment, compared to conventional lubricants. When it comes to environmentally friendly lubricants, the Vessel General Permit (VGP) is one of the key standards to be aware of. The EPA published this document as a way to help mitigate issues associated with lubricants finding their way into waterways. The lubricant’s makeup is the main factor in whether it will be categorized as environmentally friendly. The terms “inherently biodegradable” or “readily biodegradable” are used to refer to how quickly the lubricant will break down in the environment, typically in the presence of water and microorganisms. For example, inherently biodegradable lubricants will degrade between 20%-60% over 28 days, while readily biodegradable lubricants, which are classified by the EPA as EALs, degrade by at least 60% in 28 days.

2. How do you see this green trend unfolding in the next decade as industry players shift toward environmentally acceptable MWF formulations?

Since green MWF formulations aren’t currently a global requirement, I think the trend will evolve gradually in different parts of the world. Overall, regional governments are aligning with long-term trends of developing less-toxic fluids, but the pace at which these are implemented will greatly depend on regulatory demands, product pricing and performance. For example, China has stricter environmental control compared to other areas of the world due to overall environmental issues and population sickness. As a result, the Chinese government has implemented more aggressive sustainability efforts, meaning green MWFs may become more prevalent sooner. Alternatively, the U.S. has been gradually focused on sustainability initiatives and may not be as strict on implementing similar requirements.

3. What importance does the recyclability of MWFs have on the overall formulation’s impact on the environment?

Leaders in the metalworking and metal forming industries understand fluid recycling can have a positive effect on their bottom line as well as the environment. Federal and state authorities can hold the generator of the waste accountable for cleanup costs for improper coolant disposal, which can cost a company money and reputation. The economic benefits of recycling metalworking coolant can also be extensive. The larger the shop, the larger the potential savings. Each time the coolant is reused, money is saved through decreased coolant purchasing and disposal costs.

Incorporating certain products into MWF formulations, such as pine-based additives from our Altapyne portfolio or our flagship multifunctional additive Diacid 1550, can extend the longevity of the fluid and protect the equipment. For example, Diacid 1550 can also be used as coupling agent, along with our other rosin chemistries such as Altapyne that help stabilize the formulation from splitting. Government agencies also encourage and award formulators for their recyclability efforts.

Every MWF has a finite performance life and must eventually be drained. Although historically water was simply discharged after separation from emulsifiable oil, MWF wastewater is now treated to ensure it meets local water quality regulations before it is discharged into the environment. On average, 6.7 billion gallons of water is used to dilute MWFs. Since they are treated as hazardous waste, the greener the fluid the less threatening it is to the environment. EAL-compliant fluids are easier to process than traditional formulations because they are made up of products which are more biodegradable and easier for waste treatment.

4. How do Ingevity’s chemistries support the EAL-compliant MWF trend?

Ingevity MWF products are commonly used as co-emulsifiers but have multifunctionality properties including corrosion inhibition, lubricity and additional wetting. Although the MWF industry offers a vast supply of emulsifiers, Ingevity is the leading supplier of sustainable high-performing specialty additives. Many of our products are multifunctional, reducing the additives needed per formulation which can save on production costs.

As growing environmental concerns increasingly impact customers’ purchasing decisions, many companies have committed to improving the sustainability profile of their lubricant. Suppliers can support waste recovery efforts and greater circularity by providing more sustainable additives. Through the development of products based on renewable resources, lubricant formulators can play their part in offering innovative and sustainable solutions to eco-conscious customers.