Oil-based vs. Synthetic Industrial Lubricants Posted on March 1, 2022February 22, 2022 by Gary Loberg The pros and cons of synthetic versus regular, oil-based lubricants have been debated by industry professionals for years. But in many respects, synthetic products are pulling ahead of the pack. What are lubricants made of? People have used lubricants to reduce friction for centuries. In the very beginning, lubricants were made from water and animal fats. In the modern era, lubricants are made using both mineral and synthetic resources. Mineral lubricants are the more traditional products derived from crude oil. Synthetic lubricants are made from polyalphaolefin, a synthetic hydrocarbon. Regular, oil-based lubricants Oil-derived lubricants maintain a majority market share for industrial and automotive lubricants. They can be created with a wide range of viscosities to customize them to different applications, which is one of the reasons they remain a necessity. Synthetic lubricants Synthetic industrial lubricants were originally developed for projects where mineral-based products were not an option. In aerospace applications, you need a lubricant that can be exposed to extremely high temperatures. Oil-based products aren’t right for the job because they are not fire-resistant, have poor oxidation at high temperatures — which can lead to acid buildup —and can change viscosity, which causes thinning. Synthetic lubricants, on the other hand, are better able to maintain their desired viscosity and oxidative stability at extremely high and low temperatures. Sustainability issues When selecting a lubricant, industrial professionals must also consider each option’s impact on the environment. A disadvantage of mineral lubricants is they are derived from a limited resource produced by methods that can negatively affect the environment. Many argue that relying on products that increase the demand for oil isn’t beneficial to American industries, particularly when there is a renewable-based product available. Synthetic products avoid the necessity for crude oil, and they also last longer. This decreases the need for reapplications and the amount of waste. A significant percentage of lubricants used in an application will leak into the surrounding environment, potentially entering water sources and important wildlife habitats. An additional benefit of synthetic lubricants is that they come in biodegradable forms. This way, if any of the product finds its way into the environment, it will not harm the vegetation, animal population or nearby residents. Which one is better? Whether an oil-based or synthetic industrial lubricant is appropriate for a particular application will depend on the unique attributes of the project and the features of the lubricant — making it impossible to say one type of product is better than another. Each type of lubricant has its benefits and its detriments, but there’s no denying the importance of synthetic lubricants’ sustainability and environmentally friendly features.