The Hidden Dangers of Conventional Lubricants

Author: Berkeley

Human inventions have historically been reckless. We create with a short-term mentality, building something that will solve an urgent issue today; but what we lose is a better tomorrow. History textbooks are overflowing with examples – cigarettes, asbestos, PFAS and, as we are beginning to understand, some lubricant additives.

While they might not be as obviously detrimental to our health, their impact is multifaceted. The world’s most popular additive, zinc dialkyl dithiophosphate (ZDDP), has been used for decades owing to its low cost and excellent anti-wear and antioxidant properties. Unfortunately, it is also toxic to people, the environment, and catalytic converters.

The good news is that there is a solution, we can now create lubricants with no ZDDP additives. But to do so, we first need to understand how ZDDP works, why we are using it, and the reason we should be seeking an alternative.

What is ZDDP?

To understand ZDDP better, we need to look at it on a molecular level. While it is commonly referred to as zinc, it is actually the phosphorus and sulphur that do the majority of the hard work. The phosphorus reduces wear and controls oxidation while sulphur compounds are added to further reduce wear and protect the engine from extreme pressure.

This additive (and its variants) has been in use since shortly after WWII, helping to keep equipment and machines functioning correctly and to avoid any untimely downtime, maintenance, or replacement costs.

The issue is that while these additives have been extending machine longevity, they are also having a negative effect on the environment. In addition to this, exposure to phosphorous compounds has been linked to neurotoxicity.

The dangers of ZDDP

There are health concerns. ZDDP is an organophosphate-containing compound, and humans exposed to organic phosphates have been shown to experience negative side effects including nausea, light-headedness, muscle tremors and confusion. To improve the quality of the air we breath, governments continue to introduce stringent legislation around emissions. To meet these, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have introduced exhaust after-treatment systems, which require the use of lubricants with ever-lower levels of phosphorous and sulphur-based compounds.

There are also environmental concerns. ZDDP is toxic to other animals, particularly aquatic wildlife, with long-lasting effects. When burnt, ZDDP contributes to organic and inorganic compounds of phosphorus in the exhaust, which then further poison the environment. As ZDDP is non-biodegradable, the effects can linger over long time spans.

Finally, there is the damage caused to the machines SAPS-based lubricants are designed to protect. Zinc-based additives, including ZDDP, can promote corrosion of engine metals by chemically attacking surfaces, leading to component failure. The associated phosphorus can also poison expensive precious metal catalysts and sensors, and the non-combustible metal can lead to a build-up of ash, which blocks diesel particulate filters and associated exhaust after-treatment systems.

The alternative choice

With all these concerns, the obvious question is – why do we continue to use ZDDP? Primarily, it is because there hasn’t been a suitable alternative that can offer comparable wear protection and antioxidancy at a cost-competitive price point.

That is, until now.

In fact, not only has a solution been found, but it is one that outperforms conventional lubricants. The answer lies in the electrochemical properties of copper ions, which can restore and protect loaded surfaces.

In short, by replacing the conventional additives with a specially formulated copper-based motor oil, we can create an incredibly effective no-SAPS lubricant that is kinder to the environment and performs better in engines. It is the principle that fuels NEOL’s CuGlide technology and has been found to improve fuel economy, improve machine performance, and eliminate wear almost completely – while helping to protect our planet.

In other words, it is an eco-friendly, functionally superior alternative to what we’ve been using for the last 75 years… and the next step in the evolution of lubricant technology.