Chemical tech boosts lubes bio products and circular economy

Finland is home to first lube with almost 100% bio content, while oil majors seek global partners for chemical and plastics recycling projects

AT Renewable penetrating lubricantFinnish AT-Tuote - a division of chemical giant Neste, has launched the world’s first industrial lubricant with nearly 100% bio-based content. Some 95% of the content of AT Renewable Penetrating Lubricant comes from renewable sources, in particular Neste MY Renewable Isoalkane™ which is derived entirely from waste and residue oils and fats. Designed to enable dry lubrication and easy release, AT's product combines renewable solvent and bio-based oil with a ceramic component.

According to Neste, the newly developed lubricant can be used safely in all industrial, automotive, DIY applications. It is set for international launch to the Nordic Countries, Germany, the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil in spring 2020.  

Meanwhile, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered a new function in a plant enzyme that could have implications for the design of new chemical catalysts.  Traditionally, fatty acids containing adjacent OH groups, known as diols, have been important chemical components for making lubricants.  However, producing them artificially in the lab has been a significant challenge. The latest discovery means a more organic approach may be available, rather than the highly volatile catalysts currently available.

Lead researcher, John Shanklin, commented: "This enzyme could inspire a new form of 'green' chemistry. Maybe we can adapt this biomolecule to make useful chemicals in plants, or use it as the basis for designing new bio-inspired catalysts to replace more expensive, toxic catalysts currently in use."

Elsewhere, two oil majors have announced similar projects with major brands outside the petrochemical industry. French-based Total’s plastic recycling technology provider, Recycling Technologies, is addressing the circular economy challenges of food-grade plastics and chemical recycling.  It has joined forces with global brands Nestlé and Mars with the aim of developing an innovative industrial chemical recycling industry in France. According to the organisations, this is a 'first-of-its-kind' consortium of world-leading players from across the plastic packaging supply chain which and is set to examine the technical and economic feasibility of recycling complex plastic waste.

However, UK-based BP may have its own 'first to market' claim in the same arena.  Also focussing on the drive to improve the recycling of plastics, it has announced a cross-industry collaboration which includes partners such as consumer goods producers Danone SA, Unilever NV and recycling specialist ALPLA. Unilever has committed to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells by 2025.

“This is an exciting step towards a circular economy for the polyester industry,” Rita Griffin, chief operating officer of petrochemicals for BP, said in a statement. “But we know we cannot create circularity on our own.”  Perhaps they could bring Nestlé and Mars to the party?