Life Cycle Analysis of Biolubricants for Aluminum Rolling

EPA Grant Number: R831521
Title: Life Cycle Analysis of Biolubricants for Aluminum Rolling
Investigators: Theis, Thomas L. , Kosobud, Richard , Scheff, Peter
Current Investigators: Theis, Thomas L.
Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago
EPA Project Officer: Bauer, Diana
Project Period: November 1, 2003 through October 31, 2006
Project Amount: $249,944
RFA: Technology for a Sustainable Environment (2003) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development


This proposal seeks to examine issues associated with the substitution of petroleum-based lubricants with bio-based (i.e. plant-derived) lubricants for industrial applications. The main goals of the project are to begin the process of gathering data and integrating findings into a comprehensive assessment of the value and costs of biolubricants as replacement materials for petroleum-based products and to establish a framework for extending the results obtained to specific applications.


The specific objectives are: (1) to perform a life cycle assessment (LCA) on the use of biolubricants that may be potential substitutes in the aluminum rolling process for petrolubricants and to compare the information obtained to similar life cycle data for commonly used petrolubricants; (2) to perform a mass balance study, at the bench scale, on VOC losses from both bio- and petrolubricant formulations–such information is needed as input to the life cycle analysis; and (3) to perform an economic analysis of biolubricant use for application to aluminum rolling, inclusive of the potential impact of new VOC and carbon emissions credits trading.


The methodology to be used consists of standardized approaches to life cycle assessment. Mass and energy flows through each system are tracked and reported, when possible, on a commensurate basis. Data are obtained from several potential sources and compared to ensure common assumptions and robust emission factors. Mass balance information is obtained at the bench scale using specially designed equipment that includes simulated aluminum rolling at elevated temperature which is enclosed so that air sampling can be conducted. Economic analysis will track costs and benefits of lubricant substitution, inclusive of the potential impact of different regulatory schemes.

Biolubricants would appear to be an attractive material substitution: they are renewable, relatively nontoxic, biodegradable, and more easily extracted and processed than petrolubricants, with fewer environmental consequences. There is reason to suggest that VOC emissions and solid waste production for biolubricants will be less severe than for petrolubricants. In addition to lower toxicity and higher biodegradability, the composition of biolubricants tends to consist of higher molecular weight/lower vapor pressure components. However there is a need to measure emission rates and compositions, again in comparison with petro-based lubricants intended for similar uses.

The extent to which they can be reused (either directly or for secondary uses), and the degree to which their production is itself dependent on petroleum products are important matters that must be addressed before it becomes clear that biolubricants are the preferable choice. Given the heavy dependence of US agriculture on petroleum products, a significant quantity of petrochemicals will be used to produce plant feed stocks. In addition, widespread expansion of agricultural production of plants dedicated as feedstocks for biolubricants may have implications for elemental cycling (particularly nitrogen), carbon sequestration, and soil erosion.

Expected Results:

The output of this research will consist of specific comparative life cycle data on biolubricant substitution for petrolubricants, which will include information on VOC emission comparisons and a first order economic analysis. This information should provide the basis a framework for extending the findings to other metal-working applications.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 2 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

pollution prevention, life-cycle analysis, clean technology, innovative technology, environmentally conscious manufacturing, lubricants, metal working, aluminum rolling, cost-benefit, volatile organic carbon compounds., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, POLLUTANTS/TOXICS, Sustainable Industry/Business, Chemical Engineering, Sustainable Environment, Environmental Chemistry, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Chemicals, climate change, Air Pollution Effects, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Ecological Risk Assessment, Atmosphere, life cycle analysis, environmental monitoring, environmentally conscious manufacturing, petrolubricant substitutes, air pollution control, VOC removal, aluminum rolling, metal casting industry, life cycle assessment, biolubricants, carbon emissions credit trading, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2004 Progress Report
  • 2005
  • Final Report