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June 29, 2016

Volume 17 Issue 52

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Worldwide Grease Production Declines

China, North America and Europe were the top grease manufacturers in 2015, representing 71 percent of worldwide production, according to results from the National Lubricating Grease Institute’s Grease Production Survey Report. Global production fell 3.3 percent last year.

Companies participating in the project – deemed the world’s most comprehensive survey of global grease production – reported producing 2.48 billion pounds (1.1 million metric tons) of greases in 2015. China was by far the largest producing nation, with over 844 million pounds of grease, followed by North America with 482 million pounds and Europe with 443 million pounds.

Based on comparative data, worldwide production of grease fell 3.3 percent compared to 2014. Comparative data in the report shows production in Europe rose in 2015, and grand totals suggest Japan, Southeast Asia, and the combined region of Africa and the Middle East are following the same trend, according to Chuck Coe, president of Grease Technology Solutions LLC.

Coe added that the raw results showed “a majority of companies are reporting less grease produced several years in a row.” The survey, carried out by his Virginia-based consultancy on behalf of NLGI, relies on grease producers voluntarily reporting their own production data.

Lithium soap was the most popular category of grease thickener, used in 74.2 percent of global grease output. Conventional lithium soap was used in 54.5 percent of products, and lithium complex thickeners in 19.7 percent. Calcium soap, which includes hydrated, anhydrous, calcium sulfonate and calcium complex, followed at 10.5 percent, then polyurea and polyurea complexes at 6 percent, and aluminum, including conventional aluminum and aluminum complex, at around 4 percent.

Comparative data shows that the breakdown of thickener types is changing only slowly – at least at the global level. The biggest change since 2013 was a 4.1 decrease in the portion of greases made with conventional lithium soap.

The usage of different thickeners can vary significantly between regions. Conventional lithium soap was used in 25.8 percent of grease produced in North America in 2015, but was used in 84.1 percent of those made in the Indian subcontinent. Calcium soap accounted for 5 percent of grease thickener in Africa and the Middle East compared to 22.7 percent in Southeast Asia.

Photo: Rhenus Lub GmbH

Worldwide grease production in 2015 was just shy of 4.5 billion pounds, down marginally from the two prior years.

Greases manufactured with conventional base fluid accounted for 89.8 percent of all production last year, followed by greases utilizing synthetic base fluid (6.4 percent), semi-synthetic base fluid (3.2 percent) and biobased fluid (less than 1 percent).

North American production fell 5.4 percent compared to 2014 and was down 6.8 percent compared to 2013. Output in Europe rose 3.2 percent from 2014 and was 3.8 percent higher compared to 2013. “My conclusion is that Europe is still recovering from the economic crisis in 2008, whereas the United States recovered a bit faster, and now [grease production] is kind of flat to somewhat declining,” Coe theorized.

“North America has extremely mature industries, and things like steel and mining have been declining a bit,” Coe explained, citing the overall results. “I think there’s been some recovery, and I would predict North America is flat as opposed to declining. I think it’s readjusting to where it needs to be in terms of output.”

Coe noted that the results do not reveal how much grease is manufactured for export and how much is used domestically. “When you see the increased production in Europe, perhaps that means that some significant amount of product that was being exported from the U.S. to Europe is no longer being exported, and Europe’s making grease for their own demand.”

The new report shows an adjusted grand total of 929 million pounds produced in China in 2014, which was 5 percent more than that nation’s grand total for 2015. The report does not include comparative data for China, but Coe believes it’s safe to say that grease production there has been falling the past several years.

“The infrastructure activity in China has slowed down, and their growth rate has slowed. On top of that, you have more and more pieces of equipment that are manufactured by global manufacturers, and they have global standards for the lubricants that go in this equipment,” he said. As such, China is importing significant volumes of grease to comply with OEM standards while reducing exports of its products, Coe added.

Respondents reported 110.6 million pounds of grease produced Africa and the Middle East in 2015, 17.4 percent less than the previous year. Based on the location of respondents, Coe said production is growing in the Middle East in particular.

“There’s construction going on, new production and increased capacity for existing production in the Middle East. I believe that’s for export, with some of it probably going to Sub-Saharan Africa, where there is little to no manufacturing [of grease], but there is increasing demand. I think there is also export [from the Middle East] to Asia,” he explained.

Latin America and the Caribbean produced 69.5 million pounds in 2015, 4.4 percent more than was reported for the region in 2014.

All NLGI survey participants report their production in confidence to the independent consulting firm Grease Technology Solutions (www.grease-tech.com), which then analyzes and compiles the data. No one at NLGI ever sees any individual company’s data, the organization emphasized.

The 2015 NLGI Grease Production Survey is provided free to NLGI member companies and to survey participants. To purchase it online, visit www.nlgi.org or email nlgi@nlgi.org.