It is common for people to think oil only comes in one of these two types: mineral or synthetic. What exactly do they mean?
Mineral, synthetic or a combination between the two, are the bulk of a lubricant composition. Known as base oils, they are the most important components of lubricants. They range from 99% in some lubricants such as hydraulic oils down to 70% in others such as engine oils. The remaining components are the additives.
Mineral-based oils are derived from crude oil that undergoes a refining process. This ensures most impurities and undesirable components in the hydrocarbon are removed. It is worth mentioning that mineral oil is not always the same across different refiners as quality can differ depending on the refining process’ complexity.
The more severe refining process produces a better quality mineral oil. A better quality mineral oil is often attributed to resisting oxidative effects and withstanding higher temperatures while providing cold flow characteristics.
Further processing to a point where the oil molecules endure a complete chemical rearrangement will enter the realm of synthetics.
Synthetics are also commonly sourced from crude oil and go through a similar refining process as mineral oil to some extent. What makes it different is the additional reengineering process at its molecular level. If you think of how plastics are made, synthetic base oil is akin to a liquid version of them.
Anyone with a basic knowledge of lubricant will tell you that synthetics are always superior to mineral oils. This generalisation can distort the fact that the cost of synthetics is a lot higher than mineral oils. A synthetic can cost four to fifteen times more than a mineral oil so this needs to be weighed against the potential benefits.
The demand of modern machinery is not always able to be met by mineral oil. Even the best of mineral oils lack certain properties to perform in extreme conditions such as excessive temperatures (too hot or too cold). A situation like this will present us with no other choice but synthetics.
ILD offers both mineral and synthetic based products in most applications. Selection will be guided by OEM requirements, operating conditions, maintenance plan and costs. Needs assessment is necessary of which ILD technical can provide the right advice.
About the Author:
Aaron Said is ILD/Sinopec’s National Technical Manager. He is responsible for developing and delivering value-added lubricant technical services to client for reliability improvement, lubricant optimization, and cost-savings. Among his professional credentials are Certified Lubricant Specialist (CLS) and Oil Monitoring Analyst I (OMA) from Society of Tribology & Lubrication Engineers (STLE) and the International Council of Machine Lubrication (ICML)’s Machine Lubricant Analysist I.