An Ingredient in Future Lubricants – Waste Frying Fat
Some types of waste can be used to produce lubricants. This introduces a new approach that can save on costs and the environment, and could be the key to smarter production.
Renewable raw materials found in eco-friendly hydraulic oils are already being used. Complementing this are innovative projects such as the German ZeroCarb FP research alliance, of which FUCHS Lubricants is part. One of the projects within the alliance is reviewing the use of waste to manufacture new products, including lubricants.
ZeroCarb FP stands for Zero Carbon Footprint, a vision the alliance will strive to achieve by recycling and biotechnologically refining various kinds of waste. The aim is to open up new technical possibilities, improve environmental sustainability and save resources.
Smart new process
One of the research alliance’s projects focuses on lubricant production. Researchers have managed to use cooking oil as the main ingredients for specific types of lubricants. The process turns old frying fat into a high-quality raw material, using an enzyme that has unique properties. The enzyme is able to modify organic molecules in certain types of waste, enabling it to be used to make these lubricants.
This means that waste produced by restaurants can be used to make new lubricant oils, closing the material ecocycle in a more eco-friendly way. One of the challenges now is to move from the lab environment and transform waste into lubricants on a large, industrial scale. FUCHS Lubricants researchers are testing various methods to optimise the enzyme’s process to make it more efficient.
The process of refining old frying fat to create a high-quality raw material involves two steps. The first step, in which the fat molecules are split open, is common practice in biodiesel production. The second step, however, is highly innovative and was completely redesigned from the ground up for the ZeroCarb project.
An enzyme – a biochemical catalyst produced from living organisms – plays a key role in the production process. The synthesis activity is exploited as seen in the natural world.
Food becomes fuel
Expanding the use of renewable raw materials will reduce the distinction between food and fuel – this will be food first, and then fuel. For FUCHS Lubricants, this could ultimately entail a major step away from fossil fuels towards sustainably-produced raw materials. In addition to biotechnologically refining used cooking oil, the ZeroCarb FP researchers are also recycling waste water, exhaust gases and by-products from biodiesel manufacture.
This may sound unspectacular, but it is a significant achievement because the ZeroCarb product represents a major advance in terms of sustainability. Due to a new synthesis process, one of its key constituents can be obtained from another, sustainable resource.
The aim of ZeroCarb is to produce other materials, with even more flexible uses. For FUCHS Lubricants, this could ultimately represent another major step away from fossil fuels toward sustainably-produced raw materials.
Source – Giles Cutter, Lubritech divisional manager at FUCHS Lubricants South Africa
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