Sustainability and STLE

Dr. Ken Hope | TLT President's Report December 2021

Making the best use of vital resources.

Nothing lasts forever—well, except for diamonds, but most things don’t last; they wear out or are used up. One thing we can probably all agree on is that we should use things wisely. Perhaps that means making choices on things that can be recycled or reused or maybe choosing things that simply last longer before they are eventually recycled. This is the focus of the sustain-ability effort in my mind, at least.

Many companies are taking serious steps toward improving sustainability efforts. These efforts often lead to new innovations or bringing products to the market that may come from recycled materials or feedstocks. Opportunities exist in new base oils, circular plastics and new technologies that reduce the CO2 footprints of those products. This topic was the underlying theme during the recent STLE Tribology and Lubrication for E-Mobility Technical Conference, recently held virtually and in person Nov.3-5 at Southwest Research Institute, in San Antonio, Texas. The conference was highly successful with about 330 attendees from20 countries (virtually and in person). There were many excellent presentations.

Even though there are new products and technologies emerging that are stemming from a sustainability focus, we know that STLE members have been working on sustainability, whether they realized it or not. When we look at what STLE does and has been doing for longer than I have been involved, we see efforts to reduce wear, re-duce friction and enable moving systems to require less energy and enable systems to last longer. This has been, and likely will continue to be, what we do as tribologists and lubrication engineers. So, in a sense, we were way ahead of the curve on this!

When we look at our latest STLE Emerging Trends Report, we see that in the transportation section, four of the five top concerns were covering electric vehicle transmissions, electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles and the electric grid. There also is much interest in improving the internal combustion engine, so nothing seems to be off the table in that respect. In the energy section, there is strong interest in energy storage, batteries, lower emissions and wind energy. There are lubrication components in each of these, which translates to an increased need to research these areas driving new products and research investments. There are, naturally, other areas in the Emerging Trends Report, and in the next report, we will likely see even more interest in sustainability-related areas evolve.

In any event, we will continue to watch, research, study and learn. Many bright minds are actively looking into ways to improve efficiencies, recycle materials into products anew and care for this planet that has been given to us. We only have one Earth, and it is something that we all can join together and protect.
Dr. Ken Hope, CLS, is global PAO technical services manager for Chevron Phillips Chemical in The Woodlands, Texas. You can reach him at