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Encouraging innovative biolubricants SMEs

28/07/2011

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The EU Sixth Framework Programme IBIOLAB project supported biolubricants sector SMEs in developing new products to enhance their market share and reinforce their competitiveness.

Lubricants are a key element for industrial and transport applications. More than 95% of the lubricants market is dominated by low-cost mineral oils. As 30% of lubricants inevitably end up in the ecosystem, it is easy to understand why biolubricants offer an attractive alternative.

IBIOLAB addressed several research and market challenges.

  • The market share of biolubricants within the EU market is rather marginal – around 3%. Two major constraints limiting market penetration are cost and performance compared with the mineral-based lubricants;
  • Although vegetable oils have a number of inherent qualities which give them advantages over petroleum oils, there has been limited experience in their uses; and
  • The EU Ecolabel for lubricants was not sufficient by itself to boost the market for SMEs in biolubricants. Despite the fact that the initiative set up harmonised ecological and technical criteria, the number of ecolabeled biolubricants was very low.

To enhance market penetration of biolubricants in the EU, IBIOLAB focused on the following priorities.

  • Increasing the performance of biolubricants by developing new production processes for bases;
  • Decreasing the overall cost of biolubricants by introducing new methods for refining raw materials;
  • Conducting life-cycle analysis to compare the newly developed processes with the traditional production of petrochemical bases;
  • Promoting use of biolubricants through communications campaigns and through the labelling of at least one biolubricant for each application indicated in the EU Ecolabel; and
  • Enhancing the knowledge of SMEs on biolubricants issues.

The project partners represented the whole spectrum of the biolubricants sector – SMEs, R&D performers and associations – from seven countries. Project achievements enable the development of mild refining processes for raw materials and the production of new lubricant bases and bioadditives.

”New bases and additives have been developed,” explains Julie Roiz, project manager from the ValBiom association. “SMEs have used these raw materials to formulate new biolubricants that are very promising, some of which could be eco-labelled.”

IBIOLAB identified economic advantages in addition to environmental benefits: the cost of biolubricant production can be significantly reduced through the use of by-products from the refining of vegetable oil. This offers the potential to make the production process for biolubricants directly competitive with that for traditional lubricants.

In line with the EU’s key vision of connecting research results to market applications, the IBIOLAB team sees bright opportunities. To make the transition to commercialisation, several IBIOLAB partners have submitted a proposal for a Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) eco- innovation project. This would allow testing of the most promising IBIOLAB formulations in demonstration sites, cover the high demand of SMEs for new biolubricant bases and develop a sophisticated supply chain.

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