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Grease Basics

Jeremy Wright, Noria Corporation

Tags: greases
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) defines lubricating grease
as !A solid to semifluid product of dispersion of a thic"ening agent in li#uid
lubricant$ %ther ingredients imparting special properties may be included! (ASTM &
'((, Standard &efinitions of Terms )elating to *etroleum)$
Grease Anatomy
As this definition indicates, there are three components that form lubricating
grease$ These components are oil, thic"ener and additi+es$ The base oil and
additi+e pac"age are the ma,or components in grease formulations, and as such,
e-ert considerable influence on the beha+ior of the grease$ The thic"ener is often
referred to as a sponge that holds the lubricant (base oil plus additi+es)$
Figure 1. Grease Anatomy
Base Oil
Most greases produced today use mineral oil as their fluid components$ These
mineral oil.based greases typically pro+ide satisfactory performance in most
industrial applications$ /n temperature e-tremes (lo0 or high), a grease that utili1es
a synthetic base oil 0ill pro+ide better stability$
The thic"ener is a material that, in combination 0ith the selected lubricant, 0ill
produce the solid to semifluid structure$ The primary type of thic"ener used in
current grease is metallic soap$ These soaps include lithium, aluminum, clay,
polyurea, sodium and calcium$ 2ately, comple- thic"ener.type greases are gaining
popularity$ They are being selected because of their high dropping points and
e-cellent load.carrying abilities$
Comple- greases are made by combining the con+entional metallic soap 0ith a
comple-ing agent$ The most 0idely used comple- grease is lithium based$ These
are made 0ith a combination of con+entional lithium soap and a lo0. molecular.
0eight organic acid as the comple-ing agent$
Nonsoap thic"eners are also gaining popularity in special applications such as high.
temperature en+ironments$ 3entonite and silica aerogel are t0o e-amples of
thic"eners that do not melt at high temperatures$ There is a misconception,
ho0e+er, that e+en though the thic"ener may be able to 0ithstand the high
temperatures, the base oil 0ill o-idi1e #uic"ly at ele+ated temperatures, thus
re#uiring a fre#uent relube inter+al$
Additi+es can play se+eral roles in a lubricating grease$ These primarily include
enhancing the e-isting desirable properties, suppressing the e-isting undesirable
properties, and imparting ne0 properties$ The most common additi+es are o-idation
and rust inhibitors, e-treme pressure, anti0ear, and friction.reducing agents$
/n addition to these additi+es, boundary lubricants such as molybdenum disulfide
(moly) or graphite may be suspended in the grease to reduce friction and 0ear
0ithout ad+erse chemical reactions to the metal surfaces during hea+y loading and
slo0 speeds$
Table 1. NLGI onsistency
The function of grease is to remain in contact 0ith and lubricate mo+ing surfaces
0ithout lea"ing out under the force of gra+ity, centrifugal action or being s#uee1ed
out under pressure$ /ts ma,or practical re#uirement is that it retains its properties
under shear forces at all temperatures it e-periences during use$
A!!lications "uitable #or Grease
4rease and oil are not interchangeable$ 4rease is used 0hen it is not practical or
con+enient to use oil$ The lubricant choice for a specific application is determined by
matching the machinery design and operating conditions 0ith desired lubricant
characteristics$ 4rease is generally used for
5$ Machinery that runs intermittently or is in storage for an e-tended period of
time$ 3ecause grease remains in place, a lubricating film can instantly form$
'$ Machinery that is not easily accessible for fre#uent lubrication$ 6igh.#uality
greases can lubricate isolated or relati+ely inaccessible components for
e-tended periods of time 0ithout fre#uent replenishing$ These greases are
also used in applications such as some electrical motors and
7$ Machinery operating under e-treme conditions such as high temperatures
and pressures, shoc" loads or slo0 speed under hea+y load$
8$ Worn components$ 4rease maintains thic"er films in clearances enlarged by
0ear and can e-tend the life of 0orn parts that 0ere pre+iously lubricated
by oil$
Functional $ro!erties o# Grease
5$ 4rease functions as a sealant to minimi1e lea"age and to "eep out
contaminants$ 3ecause of its consistency, grease acts as a sealant to
pre+ent lubricant lea"age and also to pre+ent entrance of corrosi+e
contaminants and foreign materials$ /t also acts to "eep deteriorated seals
'$ 4rease is easier to contain than oil$ %il lubrication can re#uire an e-pensi+e
system of circulating e#uipment and comple- retention de+ices$ /n
comparison, grease, by +irtue of its rigidity, is easily confined 0ith
simplified, less costly retention de+ices$
7$ 4rease holds solid lubricants in suspension$ 9inely ground solid lubricants,
such as molybdenum disulfide (moly) and graphite, are mi-ed 0ith grease in
high.temperature ser+ice or in e-treme high.pressure applications$ 4rease
holds solids in suspension 0hile solids 0ill settle out of oils$
8$ 9luid le+el does not ha+e to be controlled and monitored$
As 0ith oil, grease displays its o0n set of characteristics that must be considered
0hen being chosen for an application$ The characteristics commonly found on
product data sheets include the follo0ing
$um!ability$ *umpability is the ability of a grease to be pumped or pushed
through a system$ More practically, pumpability is the ease 0ith 0hich a
pressuri1ed grease can flo0 through lines, no11les and fittings of grease.dispensing
%ater resistance. This is the ability of a grease to 0ithstand the effects of 0ater
0ith no change in its ability to lubricate$ A soap:0ater lather may suspend the oil in
the grease, forming an emulsion that can 0ash a0ay or, to a lesser e-tent, reduce
lubricity by diluting and changing grease consistency and te-ture$
onsistency. 4rease consistency depends on the type and amount of thic"ener
used and the +iscosity of its base oil$ A grease;s consistency is its resistance to
deformation by an applied force$ The measure of consistency is called penetration$
*enetration depends on 0hether the consistency has been altered by handling or
0or"ing$ ASTM & '5< and & 58=7 methods measure penetration of un0or"ed and
0or"ed greases$ To measure penetration, a cone of gi+en 0eight is allo0ed to sin"
into a grease for fi+e seconds at a standard temperature of '>?C (<<?9)$
The depth, in tenths of a millimeter, to 0hich the cone sin"s into the grease is the
penetration$ A penetration of 5== 0ould represent a solid grease 0hile a
penetration of 8>= 0ould be semifluid$ The N24/ has established consistency
numbers or grade numbers, ranging from === to @, corresponding to specified
ranges of penetration numbers$ Table 5 lists the N24/ grease classifications along
0ith a description of the consistency of ho0 it relates to common semifluids$
&ro!!ing !oint. &ropping point is an indicator of the heat resistance of grease$ As
grease temperature increases, penetration increases until the grease li#uefies and
the desired consistency is lost$ The dropping point is the temperature at 0hich a
grease becomes fluid enough to drip$ The dropping point indicates the upper
temperature limit at 0hich a grease retains its structure, not the ma-imum
temperature at 0hich a grease may be used$
O'idation stability. This is the ability of a grease to resist a chemical union 0ith
o-ygen$ The reaction of grease 0ith o-ygen produces insoluble gum, sludges and"e deposits that cause sluggish operation, increased 0ear and reduction of
clearances$ *rolonged e-posure to high temperatures accelerates o-idation in
(igh)tem!erature e##ects. 6igh temperatures harm greases more than they
harm oils$ 4rease, by its nature, cannot dissipate heat by con+ection li"e a
circulating oil$ Conse#uently, 0ithout the ability to transfer a0ay heat, e-cessi+e
temperatures result in accelerated o-idation or e+en carboni1ation 0here grease
hardens or forms a crust$
Affecti+e grease lubrication depends on the grease;s consistency$ 6igh
temperatures induce softening and bleeding, causing grease to flo0 a0ay from
needed areas$ The mineral oil in grease can flash, burn or e+aporate at
temperatures greater than 5<<?C (7>=?9)$
Lo*)tem!erature e##ects. /f the temperature of a grease is lo0ered enough, it
0ill become so +iscous that it can be classified as a hard grease$ *umpability suffers
and machinery operation may become impossible due to tor#ue limitations and
po0er re#uirements$ As a guideline, the base oil;s pour point is considered the lo0.
temperature limit of a grease$
5$ *irro, Wessol$ Lubrication Fundamentals$ Ne0 Bor" Marcel &e""er, '==5$
'$ C$S$ Army Corps of Angineers$ Engineering and Design - Lubricants and
Hydraulic Fluids$ AM 555=.'.58'8 CACW.AT, 5DDD$