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Understanding biodegradable lubricants

Published on 6 January 2015

A question often heard in offshore and marine circles is”What is a green oil?” That leads on to”What is an oil spill?” Following a successful workshop on the subject at the International Marine Contractors Association’s (IMCA) Annual Seminar in 2012, a new publication ‘Understanding Biodegradable Lubricants: An Introduction to ‘Green’ Oil in Hydraulic Systems Offshore’ (IMCA R 019) is now available to help answer these questions, and alleviate some of the confusion.

“A number of contributors have helped to compile our new publication,” explains IMCA’s Technical Director, Jane Bugler.”It is not intended to be wholly definitive and the reader will quickly appreciate that there is a degree of chemical composition and science to be aware of in order to better understand the information. Where needed, practical explanations or reference reading have been included.

“In addition, there is significantly more detailed and complex data available to the industry The aim of this new guidance is only to provide an initial point of reference. It should be noted that it has been largely drawn from European and American sources. When operating in other regions it is imperative that local information is used to ensure compliance with local ‘oil spill regulations’.”

The guidance, which is available for free downloading by members and non-members alike from the IMCA website at, explains that the increase in use of environmentally sound hydraulic fluids (ESHF) can be attributed to a growing awareness of the potential environmental impact and the need to observe legal and regulatory requirements. Biodegradable lubricants in the offshore and marine industries have been in use since 1985, as an alternative to mineral oil based products, which only degrade slowly and inadequately.

Choosing the correct type of fluid for a particular application can be problematic, given that most types offer some degree of biodegradability, however differ in performance and regulatory compliance. The new 16-page document with a useful glossary, and sections devoted to ESH/ECL classification: HETG, HEES, HEPR, HEPG; fluid performance parameters; biodegradability/Ecotox; water intrusion; manufacturers; regulatory requirements – OSPAR compliance; spill/discharge; do’s and don’ts offers some guidance for the operator when determining the correct choice of ESHF.

While the information can be applicable to any hydraulic system, the focus for the document is on hydraulic systems associated with remotely operated vehicle (ROV) systems, including but not limited to the vehicle, the launch and recovery system (LARS), the deck hydraulic power unit (HPU) and associated ROV tooling.

Printed copies are available from [email protected] at £10 for members and £20 for non-members.