Algae Power! Algae Oil-Based EP Additives Could Deliver More Sustainable Green Lubricants, Reducing Carbon Emissions While Also Boosting Energy Savings and Reducing Water Consumption in the Automotive Industry and Other Industrial Sectors

2024.05.20 Technology

Increased polar functionality and superior boundary lubrication properties make microalgae oils
potentially useful in boundary lubrication applications, notably metalworking and machining.

DIC Corporation and Checkerspot Inc., two industry leaders, are pooling their expertise to formulate, produce, and manufacture innovative new algae oil-based formulations for sulfurized EP additives—additives that offer more sustainable raw materials for metalworking fluids and greases, catering to the needs of automakers and other global industrial uses.

Key Takeaways

  • Lubricant quality greatly affects performance and energy consumption in the major mechanical elements of modern industrial processes, notably, in the vital machinery used to produce modern machines like automobiles.
  • Selecting the appropriate lubricant can play a crucial role in increasing the service life of machinery and components, while also significantly reducing energy consumption. Your choices can make a difference.
  • While replacing petroleum-based oils and animal lard-based oils with vegetable-based or biobased oils can be the first step towards greater sustainability, traditional vegetable-based oils like palm and canola can consume vast tracts of agricultural land that could otherwise be used to produce food crops, as well as water resources.
  • By replacing other sources of vegetable-based oils with algae oils, we can potentially witness a significant reduction in land, water, and energy consumption at the base level of raw materials production. This holds great promise for a more sustainable future.

New EP Additives May Deliver New, More Sustainable Raw Materials

On April 25, as DIC Corporation (DIC) geared up for the 78th STLE Annual Meeting & Exhibition, where DIC’s EP additive expert and KS-519 product development leader, Hironobu Matsueda will be in attendance, DIC announced the commencement of the testing phase for the newly developed algae oil-based DAILUBE™ KS-519 sulfurized EP additives.

These new algae oil-based EP additives, the latest addition to the DIC DAILUBE™ portfolio, are light-colored sulfurized triglyceride mixtures of new high-performance, environmentally friendly EP additives, well-positioned to deliver outstanding performances, helping lubricant oil manufacturers and automobile makers alike reduce carbon emissions, waste, and water use, paving the way to improved overall environmental footprints, contributing to greater sustainability scores.

What Are Some Performance Benefits of Using Algae Oil Products vs. Other Oil Types

By using DIC’s new algae oil-based KS-519 as an EP additive, metalworking fluid, grease, and lubricating oil manufacturers can positively impact the environment. When compared to another sustainable vegetable oil-based product like DAILUBE™ GS-240, the new algae oil-based KS-519 can reduce carbon emissions by 5% (see the table below), while also delivering significantly better performance metrics, including:

  • Lower friction than conventional vegetable oil types
  • -20℃ pour point (below conventional vegetable oil types)
  • High oxidation stability, suitable for long-term use

DIC’s new algae oil-based KS-519 delivers lower friction, lower pour point, and higher oxidation stability.

What is Viscosity in Algae Oils

Viscosity expresses resistance to flow or internal friction when a fluid is subjected to shear stresses. Fluid viscosity depends on the fluid’s composition, shear deformation, temperature, and pressure.

The viscosity of bio-oils is also influenced by carbon chain length and fatty acid type. High viscosity promotes high resistance to flow, thicker lubricant films, and increased power consumption, while low viscosity means low flow resistance, thinner lubricant films, and reduced power consumption.

DIC specialists understand how each specific application requires a certain lubricant viscosity grade. For example, gears operating under high loads demand high-viscosity oils for stronger and larger lubricant films. Conversely, while high viscosity is appropriate for reducing wear in machinery, it is a negative factor for reducing friction and boosting energy savings.

The viscosity of bio-oils increases with the length of a fatty acid chain due to the growth of random intermolecular interactions. Thus, oils with long-chain fatty acids usually have high viscosity, while oils with short-chain fatty acids have low viscosity.

Here, DAILUBE™ KS-519 product development leader Hironobu Matsueda explains that “DIC can control the viscosity of the product using our advanced technology of choosing the best material and reacting with sulfur bonding to meet customer demand.”

What is the Pour Point in Algae Oils

The pour point expresses the lowest temperature at which a lubricant loses flow capability and becomes semi-solid. A low pour point is desirable, especially in lubricants used at extremely low temperatures.

The pour point of bio-oils decreases as the number of double bonds in the molecules increases. As oils with high levels of unsaturated fatty acid chains exhibit lower pour points, a higher degree of unsaturation is a positive for low-temperature properties.

What is Oxidation Stability in Algae Oils

Lubricant oxidation occurs by chemical reaction with oxygen. High temperatures, high pressures, and exposure to water and other contaminants like debris or soot facilitate oxidation. Thus, a lubricant's oxidation stability expresses its capacity to withstand oxidation.

Lubricants require high oxidative stability, especially those exposed to harsh environments, including high temperatures for extended periods. The principal consequence of thermo-oxidation in bio-oils is polymerization, which leads to increased viscosity, reduced viscosity index, and alteration of lubricity.

DAILUBE™ KS-519 product development leader Hironobu Matsueda observes, “One factor in oil oxidation is the amount of iodine (the higher the value, the more oxidation). Although the algae oil used in KS-519 has a high iodine value, DIC tests show lower oxidation than with similar-iodine-value oil types.”

What Are Some Environmental Impacts of Using Different Oils as Raw Materials

The algae oil used in KS-519 requires approximately 85% less cultivated land than canola oil and approximately 87% less water than palm oil on a per-ton basis—figures that clearly demonstrate the superior environmental performance of algae oil-based products.

Most vegetable oils for biobased lubricants now come from edible crops, including, palm and canola, and the inedible large evergreen plant, commonly called tamanu, native to tropical Asia.

Vegetable oils sourced from inedible crops are preferred as oil production does not compete with the production of food crops. However, using inedible bio-oils for lubricant production is only feasible if there is enough land to cultivate edible and inedible crops to satisfy the food market demand.

Note: All carbon footprint calculations follow the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 14040, ISO 14044, and ISO 14067 standards and are based on cradle-to-gate emissions data. Emissions factors were developed from primary and secondary data collected from, among others, supplier and industry organization databases and the Inventory Database for Environmental Analysis (IDEA). Data for algae oil and other vegetable oils is from Checkerspot, Inc., of the United States, a manufacturer of algae oil raw materials and ingredients. Biogenic emissions are not considered.

How Can Reducing Friction Help Reduce Carbon Emission and Promote Global Energy Savings

Multiple studies, such as Global Energy Consumption Due To Friction In Passenger Cars, note that using advanced lubricants and tribologically enhanced technology to reduce friction losses could significantly reduce carbon emissions and boost global economic and energy savings in industrial sectors.

Global Energy Savings and Carbon Emissions Reduction from Friction Reduction by Industrial Sector

Long-term annual benefits from reducing friction using advanced lubricants and other technologies.

Data from Microalgae Biomass as a New Potential Source of Sustainable Green Lubricants

DIC has already advanced to the testing stage for the innovative algae oil-based EP additive DAILUBE KS-519, which leverages algae oil to deliver the innovative sulfurized EP additives required to reduce friction, control wear, and prevent severe surface damage at high temperatures or under heavy loads.

KS-519 sulfurized EP lubrication additive promises to deliver equivalent or superior performance to current alternatives, more sustainably, and with additional benefits, including light color and reduced odor.

How Sulfur EP Additives Work in Lubricant Oils (Gearboxes and Metal Working Fluids)

Extreme pressure additives, or EP additives—the additives used in lubricants that decrease wearing in parts of gears exposed to very high pressures—are typically used in applications such as gearboxes. EP additives are also added to cutting fluids for the machining of metals.

Extreme-pressure gear oils perform well over various temperatures, speeds, and gear sizes to help prevent damage to the gears during engine starting and stopping.

To deliver this performance, extreme-pressure additives typically contain organic sulfur, phosphorus, or chlorine compounds, including sulfur-phosphorus and sulfur-phosphorus-boron compounds, which chemically react with the metal surface under high-pressure conditions.

Why Aren’t Bio-Based Lubricants Used More Widely

Lubricants reduce friction and wear in moving surfaces, facilitating smooth operations, maintaining reliable machine functions, and reducing failures while contributing to energy savings.

As the production, use, and disposal of lubricants derived from fossil fuels or animal lard-based oils significantly impact the environment and worker health, lubricant formulators and manufacturers are under pressure to reduce their use of these lubricants, fostering innovation in green lubricants, including vegetable and algae oil-based lubricants.

Despite the ecological benefits of producing and using bio-based lubricants, the availability of the required raw materials and agricultural land to create a reliable supply chain remains a significant challenge.

Here, some microalgae species have shown a capacity to efficiently produce the high-value lipids and oils needed to produce high-performance lubricants.

What Are Some Environmental Impacts from Using KS-519 Algae-Based EP Additive

DIC’s new innovative algae oil-based sulfurized additives may reduce carbon emissions in industrial production while reducing environmental burdens through more effective land and water use.

By developing more efficient algae oil-based materials, DIC aims to reduce industrial environmental impacts so that we can pass on a rich natural environment to future generations.

Source: 2016 TerraVia Sustainability Report, Cradle-to-Gate Analysis, reviewed by ISO 14040/44 standards, which compared carbon emissions, water, and land use of unrefined algae oil made from sugarcane in Brazil to publicly available data for other major commercial oils grown globally (e.g., Canola oil from Canada, Soybean oil from Brazil, Sunflower oil from France, Palm and Palm Kernel oils from Malaysia, among others) and relied on data from

  • Murphy, D. J. (2009). Global oil yields: Have we got it seriously wrong? AOCS. Statistical Databases and Technical Conversion Factors for Agricultural Commodities)
  • IndexMundi, 2014
  • Ruitenberg, 2014

Algae-Based EP Additive Research and Development

DAILUBE™ KS-519 product development leader Hironobu Matsueda touts DIC’s new algae oil-based EP additives

DIC believes sustainability means finding new ways of using the Earth's resources more efficiently while balancing environmental protection and economic prosperity. Together with biotechnology pioneer Checkerspot Inc., DIC is diligently working to develop ever more environmentally minded products.

The California-based biotech startup Checkerspot Inc. specializes in producing renewable oils for performance materials and ingredients on a commercial scale, notably oils derived from microalgae.

Microalgae Present A New Potential Source Of Sustainable Green Lubricants

Microalgae are original oil producers. Under the right conditions, microalgae can produce triacylglycerides, which they use to store energy. Engineers can increase the amount of triacylglycerides in microalgae cells by selecting the right species, bioreactor configuration, and stress conditions.

Triacylglycerides form the base composition of lubricants, and their structure, characteristics, and concentration determine lubricant properties. Thus, the goal is to identify strain and growth conditions for accumulating the largest amounts of lipids with triacylglycerides and certain fatty acids.

Checkerspot uses its proprietary WING® Platform to supply 100% biobased, algae-derived
lubrication inputs that surpass the performance properties of other EP additives on the market.

DIC – Checkerspot Collaboration

Checkerspot uses its proprietary WING® Platform to supply 100% biobased, algae-derived lubrication inputs that surpass the performance properties of other EP additives on the market. Once again, this demonstrates that sacrificing performance for sustainability is a false choice.

Checkerspot CEO and Co-founder Charles Dimmler says, "We’re excited to work with DIC to commercialize the world’s first algae oil-based high-performance sulfurized EP additive. DAILUBE™ KS-519 proves performance needn't be compromised for sustainability."

Checkerspot CSO and Co-founder Scott Franklin

Checkerspot CSO and Co-founder Scott Franklin adds, "New algae oil-based EP additives present another opportunity to show the world that algae fermentation utilizing Brazilian sugarcane co-located with the plant… delivers a more sustainable method of producing triglyceride oils. This collaboration with DIC will showcase these performance benefits to a broader audience hungry for sustainable, high-performance lubricants with reduced carbon footprints."

Key Factors When Selecting Microalgae Oils for Lubricants

Identifying microalgae oils as potential lubricants requires a complex knowledge of their chemical characteristics, the lubricating properties required for specific applications, and strategies for enhancing these properties. The chemical composition of microalgae and vegetable oils is similar, and DIC has successfully applied its vast knowledge of vegetable oils to microalgae oils.

What is Lubricity in Algae Oils

Lubricity expresses friction reduction. Industrial lubricants are typically 90% base oil and less than 10% additives. Bio-oil lubricity is primarily influenced by fatty acid unsaturation, chain length, branching, and polarity.

Fatty acids' longer hydrocarbon chains produce stronger molecular links, decreasing the friction coefficient as carbon chain length increases. Different fatty acids in bio-oils significantly impact lubrication efficiency, and polyunsaturated fatty acids promote the protective films that form on tribologically stressed surfaces (tribofilms).

DAILUBE™ KS-519 product development leader Hironobu Matsueda explains, “The polar structures of oil molecules enhance adsorption onto metal surfaces by physical or chemical attraction. Additionally, the lubricity from the oil film itself and the generation of the lubricating film by the sulfur reaction result in excellent anti-friction performance.”

Microalgae oils with increased polar functionality exhibit superior boundary lubrication properties than mineral oils due to stronger adsorption on metal surfaces. This makes microalgae oils potentially useful in boundary lubrication applications, notably metalworking and machining.