Lubricant: interview of Christelle FERRAGUT & Guillaume NOTHEAUX
Lubricant additives & grease at Seqens “We do not sell a molecule, we sell a performance.”
How much do you know Lubricant additives ? An interview of Christelle FERRAGUT & Guillaume NOTHEAUX about Lubricant Business Line.
Hello Christelle, could you please introduce yourself as well as your activities?
I am Christelle Ferragut, and I have been working in the lubricant market for the last 30 years. My background is technical : I started in R&D, and I am today Lubricant Business Line Manager for Seqens Advanced Specialties.
Our business unit covers two main activities. First, we develop and supply proprietary additives for the industrial lubrication, metal working, and metal protection markets, as well as a range of high tech greases. Second, we offer custom development and manufacturing services to our customers, so as they can benefit our technology and industrial capabilities for their own needs.
Understanding the customer needs, and working in synergy with their formulation lab is absolutely key in the development process.
What is your industrial asset ?
We are a 80 people team dedicated to bringing ideas from R&D to the market. Our production unit is located in Couterne, France, and it has been manufacturing specialty products over the last 50 years, with continuous investment. We operate 13 reactors, with a total capacity of 150 m3, and a large 2000 m3 storage capability. Our unit can safely handle reactants such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) or trifuoroborane (BF3): this chemical expertise is a great asset to develop tailor-made solutions.
This way we can deliver 17 kT/y of products to serve our customers worldwide. We work with most of the major players in the field, whether they are petrochemical companies or independent lubricant manufacturers. 25% of them are based outside of Europe.
Our markets are more and more demanding in terms of quality : our customers audit us frequently, and we deploy a range of competencies to secure product purity, traceability, and data integrity.
Actually, the manufacturing site is also designed to supply pharma intermediates to other Seqens business : so we benefit from a common structure which helps us ensure a high level of cleanness, certifications and operational excellence.
You mention tailor-made solutions. What is the place of R&D in your projects ?
R&D is a pillar of our model, alongside with production and sales.
Our additives and greases are used in highly technical applications, and often extreme operating conditions (metal cutting, rolling, stamping, press…). Understanding the customer needs, and working in synergy with their formulation lab is absolutely key in the development process.
Our flexible R&D toolbox gathers the necessary competencies, from chemistry to applicative testing, so that the product functionality meets the technical requirements.
We do not sell a molecule, we sell a performance. Consequently, our 8 people R&D team is as expert in developing cost-efficient processes as in fine-tuning the product itself.
Our offer is a complete service which goes far beyond just supplying quality products, and we feel very proud to have developed very close partnerships to support our key customers innovations.
What are the market trends, and how do you address them ?
With an increasing mechanization of factory work, the demand for high performance and tailor-made lubricants never stops. Industries target precise work, constant end-product quality, and seek to increase their own machine tools lifetime.
We also attend a trend toward sustainable products. Some customers, especially European ones, evaluate suppliers’ ability to operate safely, limit their carbon emissions… This is actually becoming a selection criteria. As Seqens Group develops a similar Corporate Social Responsibility policy, with multiple concrete actions in terms of environment, safety and continuous improvement, we are able to meet those prerequisites.
Another trend is observed with non-labeled products. Consequently, safer solvants, non-irritating products are more and more used and developed to better protect the operators’ health, as the latest are exposed to lubricants while manipulating the machine tools.
Those drivers clearly orientate our products pipeline: our last product, Kelico BG, was totally designed to meet those needs.
Kelico BG : could you tell us more about this product ? You’ve been rewarded by the 2019 Seqens Award for this project, right ?
Yes, we are very proud of this ! This was a great recognition of our team work, and strong unity to take up a challenge.
It took us four years to develop the Kelico BG, which is a biodegradable OBCaS grease (Overbased Calcium Sulfonate) : we started acknowledging that in the US, more than a million tons of lubricant are dispersed yearly in the nature.
The common OBCaS greases on the market are not biodegradable, so we decided to develop a new production process, and ultimately designed the first biodegradable and non-labeled (meaning it is not skin sensitive) grease of its kind on the market.
This is a unique product, with excellent properties. It opens doors for new markets, but it is also a nice flagship to demonstrate what kind of service and expertise we can offer to our customers.
One last word for our readers ?
Well, we are lucky to bring competencies on a technically challenging and exciting market area. It is highly rewarding to create durable relationships with customers.
I can also tell that, 30 years ago, this industry was a very masculine world, but things do evolve fast. I am glad to see more and more women among our team, let’s keep going on like this !
Thanks for sharing, Christelle. Let’s go on with you, Guillaume : what is your role within Seqens organization ?
I am Guillaume Notheaux, in charge of R&D for the Lubricant Business. This is a team of 8 (including 65% of women to confirm what Christelle just said !), and we are based in Seqens Lab, our main R&D Center in Porcheville, close to Paris.
As explained by Christelle, we develop proprietary or custom-made lubricant additives and greases. We have a wide range of products, our two best-sellers being sulfurized additives for extreme pressure work, and OBCaS for greases & protection additives.
Choosing the right lubricant can then extend the life of the machine by 50%.
What are those lubricants used for within the industry ?
Lubricants are needed as metal working fluids for machine tools, either to create pieces of metal by removal of material or to create a shape by deformation. During those operations, the temperature of the machine and metal piece can rise up to 600 – 700 °C locally.
Lubricants are sprayed to cool down the temperature during the process, and avoid undesired micro-welding phenomenons. Tools are very expensive, and precision of the formed piece is not an option : choosing the right lubricant can then extend the life of the machine by 50%.
A lubricant is a complex mixture, often an emulsion of mineral oil and water also containing various additives, each of them playing a role during the formulation or application process: emulsifiers to mix water and oil, anti-foam, anti-corrosive products to protect the metal piece, anti-wear additives to ensure the performances, biocides to preserve the product over time… Our business unit supplies several of those ingredients to the market.
These are not standard products: most of the time, lubricants are specifically designed for a certain type of machine or operation, and it is part of the formulators’ skill to design the adapted lubricant for the target application.
More specifically, formulators can choose among our 30+ sulfurized additives portfolio to design lubricants which are applied during metal removal operations. Our phosphorylated additives are more adapted to support metal deformation work.
What exactly is a sulfurized additive ?
Chemically speaking, it is a fatty chain, like vegetal oil or methylester, with a carbon-carbon double bond on which we graft Sulfur, to obtain a sulfurized polymer.
This additive can easily be solubilized within the lubricant formula. Its role during the metal working process is to bring sulfur to the piece of metal.
When applied, the sulfur polymer will physically adsorb on the metal. While temperature increases, a chemical reaction occurs and the sulfur reacts on the iron. This creates a protecting layer on the metal which helps lubricate and avoid micro-welding and small particles losses (snatching) during the cutting process. Those phenomenons, if not controlled, decrease the lifetime of the machine as well as the quality of the metal piece.
Sulfurized additives stand extreme pressure, and bring anti-wear properties at high temperature, and under high mechanical constraints.
We can adjust the sulfur content, and select the oil in order to fine-tune the product performances, adjust the viscosity, limit the corrosion…
You also mentioned Overbased Calcium Sulfonate for greases as a key offer within your catalog ? What is it ?
Greases can basically be considered as a sponge of oil. It is then mostly constituted of a carrier (oil) mixed with thickeners, like Overbased Calcium Sulfonate (OBCaS), our product.
There are multiple type of greases depending on the application you are looking for, from home care to high tech uses.
Our products are thermically and mechanically very stable, suitable to produce high performance greases which can be used in challenging conditions, where anticorrosive, hot temperature and water resistance are required. For instance, our products can be used to grease ball bearings or other mechanical pieces within the steel industry, under extreme conditions.
What is so specific about the technology ?
OBCaS is not a simple mixture of calcium carbonate and calcium sulfonate. Our products are built up with a nano-particle structure of calcium carbonate under a calcite form, which gives the thickening properties. This core structure is then coated and stabilized with calcium sulfonate.
We obtain the nanoparticle by carbonating lime. Advantageously, our process allows to obtain calcium carbonate directly under the calcite form. Only after is our product mixed with oil to produce grease.
This is an advantage compared to the other OBCaS products on the market, as most of them are sold as amorphous, not yet calcite, and already contain some oil, which means that the final grease formulator cannot choose 100 % of its carrier.
Our customers can then rely on our our technology and industrial capabilities, so as to get a fully custom-made product. Our new Kelico BG grade illustrates well our ability to adjust the recipe and target very specific properties.
Christelle mentioned it took 4 years to develop it ?
The hardest part was clearly the scale-up, as it is a very viscous product with thixotropic behavior (which means that its viscosity evolves with mixing and agitation).
We also had to identify a suitable vegetal oil and all ingredients accordingly to produce a non-labeled grease. Its biodegradability has been checked by an external lab under OECD 301B norms.
We see clear market potential for this product, especially for outdoor applications, where there are risks to spread greases in the environment, such as forestry or railway activities…
Good job from the team, and thanks again, Christelle and Guillaume, for all explanations.