Understanding Types of Lubricants: Biolubricants

Understanding Types of Lubricants: Biolubricants

By on Jan 23 2017

Environmentally-friendly lubricating oils do exist-- and they don't require sacrificing performance.

Biolubricants, also known as bio-based lubricants or bio-lubes, are both rapidly biodegradable and nontoxic for humans and aquatic environments. They are made from vegetable oils or other renewable resources, including animal products. Vegetable-derived oils are typically preferred for base oil use.

Water can also be used as a lubricating fluid, either on its own or as a component in combination with another base oil (commonly used in applications such as milling and lathe turning)

Lanolin, derived from sheep wool grease, is a natural water repellent and is an alternative to petroleum-based lubricants. It protects against rusts, salts, and acids.

Why Go Bio-based?

Bio-based lubricants are best used in applications where the lubricants can (or will) have direct contact with the environment.

If you are working in one of these situations, you should go with a bio-lube:

  • You are working with machinery that loses oil directly into the environment when it is in operation. These types of machines use total loss lubricants (TLLs). Examples include such a two-stroke engine using a total-loss oiling system, chainsaw bars and chains, dust suppressants, and marine lubricants.
  • You are using equipment in environmentally sensitive areas. Environmentally sensitive areas would include waterways, national parks, wildlife refuges, ski resorts and other recreational areas.

If you see a crane working on the docks around a body of water, for example, it's likely using an environmentally-friendly hydraulic oil.


Besides their biodegradability and non-toxicity, biolubricants have a number of other benefits, as well. Because these lubricants have higher flash points, constant viscosity, and less oil mist/vapor emissions, they offer increased safety. They also produce fewer emissions and have superior adhesion to metal surfaces.

However, there are some disadvantages to using bio-based lubes, including high viscosity at low temperatures and poor oxidative stability at high temps (although certain additives designed specifically for plant-based oils help eliminate stability issues due to extreme temps). They can also be more costly than traditional mineral oils.


Biolubricants can be used in a wide range of applications including the following:

  • Engines
  • Gearboxes
  • Hydraulics
  • Chainsaws
  • Greases
  • 2-stroke speedboat engines

As always, you should choose a lubricant that is right for your application by adhering to your machinery's specifications, as provided by the manufacturer.

These lubricants fall under Group V of The American Petroleum Institute (API) base oil designations, which you can read more about here!


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