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Research council, varsity develop bio-degradable lubricants from seeds

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The Raw Material Research and Development (RMRDC) and the University of Benin, Edo State, have developed bio-degradable lubricants from black dates and rubber seed oil.

The research objectives, according to Prof. H.D. Ibrahim, Director-General of RMRDC, include building capacity in the auto industry and eradicating or reducing the environmental challenges emanating from the use of mineral oil as a base oil for the production of lubricants.

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Through the project, the collaborators extracted and characterised crude vegetable oils from the seeds, formulated and developed bio-degradable grease/lubricants of different categories for different functions.

Mineral oils are normally used in grease production, and only 25% mineral oil-based lubricant is biodegradable. This fuels environmental pollution, disruptions into aquatic wildlife ecosystems, and water contamination for humans.

Besides environmental pollution, extensive usage of mineral oil has caused depletion of crude oil reserves, increased carbon emissions, and aggravated damage to ozone layers, a great factor in climate change.

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The awareness of environmental pollution caused by mineral oil has led the lubricant industries to produce environment-friendly products by replacing mineral oil with biodegradable materials, and in Nigeria, home-grown products are being championed by the two institutions.

In 2004, out of 37.4 million tonnes of lubricants consumed, 53% was utilised by the automotive sector. In 2005, 55% of lubricant was consumed by the automotive sector worldwide. The overall consumption growth rate of lubricants by the automotive sector is about 0.8% yearly. In 2012, global demand was 40.5 million tonnes. This rose to 44,400,000 metric tonnes in 2018 and in 2019, to 45.4 million tonnes. This demand is expected to increase by 2.3% yearly.

In the US, $6.3 billion was expended on lubricants in 2018. Also, in the U.S, 60% of the lubricant oil used is lost to the environment, which in turn leads to air pollution.

The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report as of 2018 estimated vehicles in the country at about 11.7 million, with commercial vehicles holding about 58.08 per cent of the number.

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According to the report, out of the 11,653,871 million vehicles, commercial vehicles were 6,768,756, representing about 58.08 per cent; private were 4,739,939 (40.67 per cent); the government vehicles followed with 139,264 (1.19 per cent); while diplomatic vehicles accounted for 5,912 (0.05 per cent).

The implication was and is that commercial vehicles consume higher litres of lubricants yearly as a result of frequent maintenance, lubricant change, and the environmental implication for Nigeria is huge considering the preponderance of mineral oil as the base of lubricants in the country.

This necessitates the research into more human and environment-friendly bio-degradable lubricants.

Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Prof. Felix Kolawole Salako, also believes in preserving the environment with research and development of earth-friendly and biodegradable products using locally sourced raw materials as import substitution strategy.

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Prof. Ibrahim said: “Through this project, we determined the chemo-physical properties of the oils, and the fatty acid and free fatty acid compositions. We have obtained the optimal formulation for each grease and conducted applicability and comparative tests/analysis with conventional greases.”

He added that the team has developed five types of grease, including biodegradable grease/lubricants from rubber seed oils; biodegradable grease/lubricants from black date; hybrid biodegradable grease/lubricants from the black date and rubber seed oils; and semi-solid biodegradable grease/lubricants from rubber seed oils (Sodium Stearate).

“The results indicated that the grease produced has comparable properties with non-biodegradable lubricants. The next stage is promoting investment in large-scale industrial production of the formulations, with the hope that credible interested investors would bring about commercialisation of the project.”

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