Lubricants and grease products constitute a downstream specialty business that generates profit for producers. Most of the major oil companies are key players in the lubricants industry, but independent producers still hold a significant share of lubricant volume in many countries.
There are several thousand different lubricant products manufactured in the US alone that are made from mineral, animal and vegetable materials. They fall into three categories: automotive lubricants, industrial lubricants and greases. Lubricating grease is a solid or semisolid lubricant composed of a fluid lubricant with an added thickening agent. The fluid base is typically petroleum-derived, while the thickening agent usually consists of soap made from aluminum, barium, calcium, lithium, sodium or strontium. On occasion, if wide temperature variations are encountered, the fluid base is a synthetic, such as silicone or polyalkylene glycol.
There is growing interest in bio-lubricants that use vegetable and mineral oils to reduce petroleumbased oil stock. Some of this development is being driven by environmental and regulatory pressures. These new compounds blend a variety of eco-friendly oils such as soyabean, canola (rapeseed) and sunflower seed which are non-toxic and renewable. In addition, some research indicates vegetable-based lubricants, made with individual fatty acids, can perform better in motor vehicle engines and other applications than their petroleumbased counterparts.