A number of environmentally adapted lubricants have been proposed in response to the environmental and health impacts of metalworking fluids (MWFs). The alternatives typically substitute petroleum with vegetable-based components and/or deliver minimum quantities of lubricant in gas rather than water, with the former strategy being more prevalent than the latter. A comparative life cycle assessment of water- and gas-based systems has shown that delivery of lubricants in air rather than water can reduce solid waste by 60%, water use by 90%, and aquatic toxicity by 80%, while virtually eliminating occupational health concerns. However, air-delivery of lubricants cannot be used for severe machining operations due to limitations of cooling and lubricant delivery. For such operations, lubricants delivered in supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2) are effective while maintaining the health and environmental advantages of air-based systems. Although delivery conditions were found to significantly influence the environmental burdens of all fluids, energy consumption was relatively constant under expected operating conditions. Global warming potential (GWP) increased when delivering lubricants in gas rather than water though all classes of MWFs have low GWP compared with other factory operations. It is therefore concluded that the possibility of increased GWP when switching to gas-based MWFs is a reasonable tradeoff for definite and large reductions in aquatic toxicity, water use, solid waste, and occupational health risks.
CSS Publication Number:
Environmental Science and Technology
Clarens, A., J. Zimmerman, G. Keoleian, K. Hayes, S. Skerlos. “Comparison of Life Cycle Emissions and Energy Consumption for Environmentally Adapted Metalworking Fluid Systems.” Environmental Science and Technology, 42(22): 8534–8540. (2008).