The end of 2022 is nearing, and millions of Americans are wondering if product shortages are finally behind us. The truth is – No, the shortages are not behind us. Computer chips, semiconductors, aluminum products, plastics, and oil products are among the products behind in supply.
Many of these products in short supply have a direct effect on daily life whether at home or at work. For example, in our industry, base oil shortages are affecting engine oil, hydraulic oil, and grease availability.
Think how many people and businesses are affected by shortages of these just these three products. Just look at grease. Without grease, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and transportation all stop.
We recently did a blog on “Oil Industry Updates: Price Hikes, Shortages & New Technology” and the number 1 question we have received since is: “Do I have to worry about running out of grease?”
So, let’s dive deeper into the grease shortage.
Cause of the Shortages
- Lingering transportation delays left over from the COVID-19 pandemic
- Worker shortages in the oil and gas industry
- Rise of electric vehicles and the need for lithium batteries
As you may know, the most common grease is lithium-thickened grease, and right now there is a lithium shortage being caused by the electric vehicle boom. The EV industry needs lithium for batteries, and the price has skyrocketed because of the increased demand. See Figure 1.
A quick glance at the above chart tells the story. Since mid-2020 lithium prices have gone up and up and up. Electric vehicles continue to demand more lithium on a global scale and with EVs looking to be the future of automobiles it is unlikely that lithium prices will decrease any time soon.
Historically lithium was the leading choice for grease thickeners because it featured good compatibility, solid performance, and was economically priced. In short, lithium offered the best performance for the price, however, as prices have soared does it still offer the best bang for the buck?
The main competition for lithium-thickened greases is calcium-thickened greases. Let’s look at the performance data.
Available Alternatives with the Comparison
|Performance Aspect||Higher Rating||Lower Rating|
|Compatibility||Lithium/Calcium have almost identical compatibility|
|Price||Calcium is now cheaper than lithium, historically this was the opposite|
Looking at the comparison it is easy to see that calcium-thickened greases are the clear winner in terms of performance so why do lithium greases still exist? The dramatic price increase in lithium happened “overnight” and many manufacturers and wholesales chose to stick with lithium as all their product data sheets, legal paperwork, branding, and marketing were in place for lithium greases.
However, as calcium greases are now cheaper than lithium greases and outperform them it is the common belief that lithium greases will be eliminated in the upcoming years.
Top Performing Calcium Greases to Replace Lithium Greases
The best multipurpose calcium grease for farms, lawnmowers, and industrial applications is going to be AirTec G200EP. G200EP is a calcium-complex grease with exceptional stability, excellent pressure ratings, and an extremely high-temperature rating.
If you are looking for a full synthetic calcium-thickened grease a great option is AirTec KH150. Exceptional low and high-temperature performance means this grease is great all year round no matter where you live—ideal for high-speed applications like mowers, balers, and industrial machines.
When will the Grease Shortage End and Things go back to Normal?
Looking into the future there are a couple of things to watch.
- Labor Shortages
- Grease Tube Shortages
- Oil/Thickener Shortages
1. Labor Shortages
The labor market is tight right now and one of the problems being faced by the lubricant industry is having the labor force to get products to market.
Luckily the oil and gas industry offers great jobs and benefits so as the economy normalizes the oil and gas industry should start to fill positions. More workers in combination with a slowing demand should start to normalize supply lines. Therefore, it is expected that these issues will “self-resolve” in the upcoming year or two.
2. Grease Tube Shortages
Worldwide there is a standard grease tube shortage and shows no signs of being corrected. It is caused by a combination of raw material shortages, high demand, and a weak labor force.
The good news is that Lube-Shuttle® grease cartridges have not been affected by these shortages and our manufacturing plants remain on time and ahead of demand (even though demand has increased dramatically).
If you are looking for a stable grease tube it is a great time to look at Lube-Shuttle®. Not only are they readily available but the thread in design also eliminates the mess and waste created by standard grease tubes.
3. Oil/Thickener Shortages
While oil shortages could affect the entire lubricant industry it appears that they will remain localized and affect companies that use large blenders and standard-use products. The thickener shortages are also mainly affecting companies that use lithium, luckily, we are ahead of the curve on both fronts and have a solid supply of oil and calcium thickeners.
If you still are using lithium grease it is a great time to look to make the switch to calcium and save some money while getting a better product.
The lubricant company is changing and experiencing supply issues as a result. Companies that are evolving and developing new products can offer users a premium performance product with new technology at a great price. Companies clinging to old standards are going to continue to face shortages, price increases, and lower-performing products.
As a consumer, it is a great time to look at new technologies that offer savings and shored-up supply. Change is good when it is coupled with improvement and innovation so make sure you reap the benefits!