High performing environmentally acceptable lubricants: hydraulic fluids

Jagraj Sidhu, Product Manager, Lubrizol

As the move continues towards a more sustainable, safer and cleaner future, so too does the demand for Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs) that are biodegradable, eco-friendly, non-bio accumulative and minimally toxic.

As the largest segment in the global industrial lubricants market, hydraulic fluids are essential in the day-to-day running of machinery and equipment in a wide range of industries, including marine, construction, mining, forestry and agriculture. Hydraulic fluids protect crucial components from wear and corrosion, enabling hydraulic systems to provide efficient and unyielding power, often in the harshest environments.

In a hydraulic system, the fluid not only has to lubricate critical areas of the hydraulic system, such as the pump, but it also has a primary role of acting as the medium for the transfer of power. It is for this reason that hydraulic systems often contain very large volumes of fluid.

In mobile equipment like a modern tractor or excavator, the hydraulic system can often contain up to 40 imperial gallons (180 litres) of fluid and a large mining shovel requires up to 200 imperial gallons (900 litres) of hydraulic fluid.

Due to the way hydraulic systems operate, large volumes of hydraulic fluid can be lost through spills and leakage. This can have a significant impact in environmentally sensitive locations, such as forests, agricultural land, construction sites, mining sites and both inland and offshore waters.


Increasing concerns and requirements to protect environmentally-sensitive areas have seen a rise in the demand for low environmental-impact lubricants, including biodegradable hydraulic fluids. This is driven by increased regulatory requirements as well as growing levels of social responsibility from business and landowners.

A range of stringent environmental specifications and labelling schemes exist and are relevant to biodegradable hydraulic fluids across the world. Each are designed to make the world more sustainable, safer and to provide a cleaner future. Some of the most relevant to biodegradable hydraulic fluids are as follows...

European Ecolabel To be awarded the stringent European Ecolabel, products must adhere to a strict set of published environmental criteria and technical specifications agreed to by the EU member states. For products to be marketed as ‘bio-based’ or ‘bio-lubricant,’ they must deliver a minimum of 25% bio-based carbon content in the final product.

The Eco-label process covers five key aspects of: biodegradability; bioaccumulative potential; aquatic toxicity; renewable ingredients and technical performance testing according to ISO 15380.

The 2018 update to the EU Eco-label includes sustainability criteria relating to the use of renewable ingredients and the packaging of the lubricant; addressing the responsible sourcing of palm oil/palm kernel oil derived ingredients and the recycled content where lubricants are sold in plastic containers.

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