Green proposition for metalworking fluids

Mattia Adani, Nowal Chimica, srl

In Italy, lubricant oils have historically been taxed. The first specific taxation was introduced in 1939 by royal decree. Despite a World War, a radical government transition (Italy is now a Republic), a few oil crises, a lot of litigation in Italian and European courts, the tax on lubricants managed to survive (as we all know taxes, like greases, tend to be sticky).

Today if you want to manufacture or import lubricant oils into Italy you must pay the government as high as 842 euros per tonne. As usual there are some differences for certain specific categories and a lot of paperwork is involved: companies are required to obtain specific licenses, track production and sales of lubricants and periodically notify the government using forms that are difficult to understand (taxes, besides stickiness also have a tendency to sometimes unnecessary complication – like the specifications of some gear oils issued by car manufacturers).

The tax, however, did not and does not target lubricants in general, but only lubricants that are manufactured from oil. No sophisticated policy decision was involved. Simply, in 1939 all lubricants were thought of as being manufactured from oil.

Given the amount of the tax, which is a very high proportion of the value of the product that is being taxed, a significant tax discrimination is present.

Starting from the beginning of the 1990s several companies operating in the Italian metalworking sector, in order to exploit this tax discrimination, started developing alternatives to oil bases for


the production of soluble and neat oils used in metalworking applications.

Among other things, they started experimenting with esters in place of mineral oils. At first, the results were unpromising. At the time esters were mostly of purely organic derivation, extracted from oilseeds or other natural sources. They offered very favourable environmental advantages (and they were tax-free), but also presented a key disadvantage: a lot of chains with double carbon bonds.

Rapeseed oil was among one the most commonly used bases to produce esters. In the low-erucic acid version it presents the following indicative composition: • 60% Oleic acid (1 double carbon bond) • 22% Linoleic acid (2 double carbon bonds) • 10% Linolenic acid (3 double carbon bonds)

This accentuated presence of carbon chains with double bonds C = C made the resulting products easily attacked by oxidising agents commonly found in open circuit mechanical processes, which are characterised by high temperatures and pressures, exposure to air and light, the presence of metal chips, residues and other contaminants.

The result was the breakage of the carbon double bonds with subsequent polymerisation. This translated into the formation of lacquers and sludge which compromised the performance of the machining operations and sometimes damaged the machines themselves. On top of that, poor consistency of

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