ALMU: The sustainability agenda

Sustainability is an increasingly critical component of doing business. It will be high on the agenda for the Asian Lubricant Manufacturers Union (ALMU) in this coming year, and we believe it will remain so, says Steve Puckett, co-founding director of the industry association and executive chairman of strategic advisory and consulting company Tri-Zen. ALMU will provide guidance to members and promote an awareness of critical sustainability concerns, he says.

Speaking during the 1st ALMU Webinar on Sustainability of Lubricants, on 28 October 2020, Puckett, who has more than 40 years’ experience in the energy business, stressed the importance of holding a committed position on sustainability and it being increasingly necessary when dealing with major and national oil companies.

The webinar is the first in a series on sustainability being planned by the association, the voice of the Asian lubricants industry. Dr. T.C.S.M Gupta, vice chairman and chairman of the Technology & Information Subcommittee moderated the webinar. Gupta is senior vice president, quality, R&D and technical at Apar Industries Limited, based in Mumbai, India. 

The Singapore-based association also announced that “Sustainability of Lubricants,” has been adopted as the theme of its 2021 Annual Meeting, to be held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 8-10 March 2021.

ALMU recently published its Sustainability Statement, which Puckett believes positions it rightly at the forefront for a lubricants industry association. The statement emphasises the association’s commitment to environmental, social and community stewardship. Its core values include conservation of the environment, encouraging the use of natural resources in a manner that minimises adverse environmental impact, and provides full support for local and global efforts in shaping an energy future that meets the goals of United Nations’ climate initiatives. You can view the entire sustainability statement here.

ALMU Chairman Pai Kok Tan announced that sustainability is one of the association’s four priorities during the ALMU Virtual Town Hall Meeting held last month. Pai Kok is vice president operations, lubricants, Asia Pacific & Middle East, at Total Oil Asia Pacific. 

Mark Miller, a panellist during the sustainability webinar and CEO at Biosynthetic Technologies, detailed how sustainability requirements have ‘exploded’ in recent times. Miller has engineered, sold, and marketed environmentally acceptable lubricants and base oils for more than 30 years. Biosynthetic Technologies manufactures a new class of synthetic oils made from organic fatty acids found in plant oils.

Historically, sustainability ambitions have included the need for products to be renewable, and safe for the environment – biodegradable, low toxicity, and low bioaccumulation. Then came demand for them to perform as well as petroleum-based products, alongside cost-effectiveness. These requirements have been supplanted by a myriad of sustainability definitions that include carbon footprints, lifecycle assessments, social and economic impacts. It is no longer just about sustainable lubricants; it is about sustainable operations.  

The industry is changing very rapidly. Miller maintains that the definition of sustainability remains somewhat unclear. Companies are using different meanings, and there are concerns some companies are misrepresenting the environmental characteristics of their fluids, he says.  

When it comes to a product’s environmental fate, a level of confusion around sustainability definitions is understandable. Biodegradability has two types of testing and several different industry tests, says Miller. ASTM Standard D5864 measures carbon dioxide in water in effluent as a product biodegrades to test ‘ultimate biodegradation’. The benchmark for ultimate biodegradability is greater than 60% biodegradation in 28 days. If biodegradation occurs in a 10-day window it is considered ‘readily biodegradable’. Though, it is ‘inherently biodegradable’ when between 20% and 60% biodegradation in 28 days, he says. The standard also recognises slower degrading material.

Miller also highlighted different standards for ecotoxicity, alongside other ecological tests that assess bioaccumulation – which is predominantly used for the U.S. EPA’s Vessel General Permit — and renewable content. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a bio preferred program that encourages affirmative purchasing for bio containing products, he says.

Biosynthetic Technologies is supportive of ALMU’s approach to sustainability, says Miller. The company itself embraces a circular sustainability standpoint. Products are analysed using a detailed high-level lifecycle assessment using ISO 14040 methodology. The approach examines raw materials, manufacturing impact, material handling and manufacturing processes. 

By way of example, Miller cited castor oil – one of the company’s feedstocks. Arid farmland ensures they are not competing with food crops and allows high utilisation in a small area. Crops can be harvested several times on a single planting. The organisation employs carbon-negative manufacturing, and shipping and processing facilities are in close proximity to minimise transportation impacts. For every one million tons of Biosynthetic Technologies product, 9.16 tons of carbon dioxide is absorbed, he says.

While Biosynthetic Technologies provided a product specific perspective on sustainability, Elizabeth Grove, chief sustainability officer at Lubrizol Corporation, demonstrated how the specialty chemicals company has woven sustainability into the heart of the company’s corporate goals. Lubrizol has observed increasing pressure from customers to integrate sustainability into their offering, says Grove. The executive team has embraced sustainability from an ethical, environmental, and commercial standpoint, she says.

Lubrizol’s mission is to ‘enable’ a 50% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2040, improve circularity within products by 25% by 2028, and to improve at least two billion lives by 2026. ‘Enable’ is a key theme presented by Grove during the webinar. The president of The Lubrizol Foundation emphasised the importance of high-quality standards and lubricants as sustainability enablers. 

Lubricants are uniquely positioned to help organisations achieve their sustainability goals, with quality lubricants enabling more effective use of downstream products, says Grove. Lubricants allow the ability to optimise use, prevent wear, tear, and early obsolescence — therefore reducing scrap, replacement, and the volume of mechanical parts in landfills. An increase in efficiency also reduces the need for more energy, she says.

Grove emphasised the dual opportunity of shrinking Lubrizol’s corporate footprint – the impact of their operations, while at the same time extending their handprint to “enable our customers to reduce their footprint — by using our ingredients.” The lubricant industry, in particular, is very well positioned to enable reduced emissions, longer life, and more efficient operation of all kinds of applications over time, she believed.