U.S. lubricants demand is projected to expand slightly to 2.4 billion gallons in 2020, following a period of modest growth between 2010 and 2015, according to a new study from Cleveland, Ohio-based Freedonia Group. A positive economic outlook will benefit U.S. lubricant demand moving forward, with rising U.S. manufacturing output and increasing commercial activity offsetting the adoption of high performance lubricants with longer drain intervals.
Process oils and metalworking fluids, which are primarily used in manufacturing, are forecast to be the fastest growing product categories; however, expansion even for these products will be modest. Government regulation and consumer demand for “green” products will concentrate growth in re-refined and bio-based lubricants, according to Freedonia Group.
“Transmission fluids, gear oils, and engine oils will be most affected by the lengthening drain intervals associated with improvement in fluid technology,” Minor Cline, an analyst with Freedonia Group, said. Changing from a basic conventional lubricant to a premium synthetic product can potentially double drain intervals, depending on the application. Synthetics will see significantly faster growth than conventional petroleum products where performance pressures are strongest, he said.
Although they are attractive as environmentally conscious alternatives, government regulations and economic incentives for purchase of bio-based and re-refined products will be key to their market expansion. Low oil prices have altered the short-term forecast for these products due to the difficulty of competing with mineral oil products on price, he said. However, the long-term outlook is unchanged: growth of bio-based and re-refined products will accelerate once oil prices start their gradual recovery.