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The Most Significant Technology To Reduce CO2 Emissions

ALIA Virtual Keynote & Panel Discussion

The Most Significant Technology To Reduce CO2 Emissions

The lubricants industry and tribology are in a strong position to contribute significantly to society’s sustainability goals, says Dr. Mathias Woydt, managing director of MATRILUB in Germany. Speaking at the 2021 Asian Lubricant Industry Association (ALIA) Virtual Meeting on 9 March 2021, Dr. Woydt told members “we have all the tribology bricks, we just need to assemble them.” The required technology for the next decade is already available, the key is how it will be organised. New business models and a willingness to bring them to market are necessary, he says. Then there is the question of whether customers are willing to pay more for the solutions.

Dr. Woydt is a board member of the German Society for Tribology. He has more than 35 years of experience in R&D, has published 340 publications, and filed 51 priority patents. During his keynote address on “The importance of lubricants and tribology for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and for achieving sustainability goals,” Dr. Woydt outlined a broad range of solutions offered by lubricants and tribology to reduce CO2 – the new gold standard for sustainable consumption. 

Until recently, the CO2 and sustainability debate had failed to recognise the causal relationship between friction and CO2 emissions, as well as the connection between wear protection and sustainability. Sustainability and wear protection are the most hidden relationship – and maybe the most important, says Dr. Woydt. 

For the lubricants industry, sustainability can be observed from multiple perspectives: durability extension and resource conservation, lower friction and better energy efficiency, the circular economy, and biodegradability and renewable resources. The global understanding of sustainability must be based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations from 2015, says Dr. Woydt.

In 2019, 86% of global energy generation was still based on fossil combustion materials.  Previous research has confirmed that between 8% and 24% of total primary energy can be saved by reducing friction. Lubricants are the most versatile and safe technology to reduce friction. If we apply this to global CO2 emissions, then tribology and lubrication is the most significant technology to reduce CO2, says Dr. Woydt.

There is a range of potentials for reducing primary energy consumption. According to research by Holmberg, 20-23% of total primary energy consumption is lost due to friction, with a long-term saving potential of 40%. A savings potential of 30% of friction losses would reduce global CO2 emissions by 2.27-4.55 gigatons of CO2 per year, says Dr. Woydt.

Dr. Woydt advised the ALIA Virtual Meeting attendees that doubling general service life through wear protection and condition monitoring could add more than 8.8 gigatons of resources per year, combined with an equivalent of at least one ton of CO2 per ton of resource. He identified a combined medium/long-term reduction potential through tribology of 6-10 gigatons of CO2 or 15-26% of the 37.9 gigatons of CO2 emitted globally in 2019.

The keynote presentation was followed by a panel discussion that included five distinguished industry experts. During this lively debate, Dr. Woydt criticised the sustainability progress of some larger companies, including petrochemical organisations, suggesting many do not yet consider sustainable practice as core business and are purely focused on creating sustainability reports and making calculated investments in renewables. 

The MATRILUB representative also called out organisations that are misrepresenting sustainable practices by failing to consider scope one to three emissions, reporting only before and after plant impacts. “Only when all scopes are included in sustainability reporting I will be optimistic of achieving our targets and that all sustainable investments are done intentionally,” Dr. Woydt says.

No doubt, a company’s climate change response will be a defining factor in its long-term prospects. Maurizio Abbondanza, technology and sustainability director at Infineum, UK Ltd., suggested there is a trade-off when it comes to making sustainability decisions – not all decisions are black and white. Abbondanza emphasised that sustainability is an area for collaboration, not competition — to enable faster growth. “The early signs are there, but I believe they are not fast enough,” he says.   

Charlotte Kehoe, senior manager, technology at Castrol Asia Pacific, accepts there is increasing pressure for organisations to move in the right direction. However, “we don’t know what the ultimate mode is for sustainability,” she says. There are multiple opportunities, but none is optimal — and there are some benefits in oil companies having different perspectives. Dr. T.C.S.M Gupta, chairman of ALIA’s technology subcommittee and senior vice president, quality, R&D and technical at Apar Industries Ltd., believes there has been a clear change in mindset — with most companies now calling themselves integrated energy companies, and he sees a major shift in companies reporting their sustainability goals.

On whether hydrogen can help cut out emissions, Frederic Jarnias, research engineer tribology at Total, explains that the engine technology needed for hydrogen, while it is similar to gas  engines, the key issue is in its storage. 

One question was “Should governments intervene to mandate measures that will force true sustainability goals?” Dr. Woydt concedes that strong enforcement and penalties can change the market more rapidly. Though, “We should not always look to parliament and politics. Fears from investors on the long-term viability of an investment, and pressure from capital, can drive management and companies to more sustainable practices,” he says. More and more institutional investors recognize sustainability not as a physical risk, but as a historic investment opportunity for not losing value in the long run.

Asia is a more fragmented lubricants market than North America and Europe, with a wide range of industrialisation levels. The next step in improving the sustainability agenda in Asia is a shift to Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs), says Dr. Woydt. EALs first appeared on the market in 1990, but after 30 years, they remain at a low level of market penetration due to high prices and lack of mandatory policies. 

Mika Kettunen, technical product manager, base oils, at Neste Corporation Technology Centre, highlighted the need to develop drop-in solutions for present lubricant applications to enable much faster adoption. Base oils and components that are hydrocarbons from renewable resources, and provide even better properties than the current solutions, would enable the scale-up of that business, he says.

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