Bio-oils – for the health of forestry, the environment and it’s people

For several years now, the PF Olsen Environmental Team has been pushing the use of bio-oil products with the company’s contractors. So far uptake has been relatively limited, with most contractors having a minor dabble in bio-oils, before returning to their standard oil products. The reasons for this are mainly due to the perceived cost of bio-oil and its performance in the machines. However, times have changed and with them so too have bio-oil products. PF Olsen is currently working with Michal Kadlec from LUBECO to raise the profile and usage of bio-oils amongst our forestry contractors. Contractors Olsen 80 (CNI) and Wise on Wood (Northland) are also championing the bio-oil cause.

What are Bio-oils?

Bio-oils are non-toxic substitutes for traditional mineral-based lubricants. LUBECO use rapeseed, which they press to extract the oils. The remaining rapeseed cake is sold back to farmers as feed for cattle, while the oil products are further processed into LUBECO’s range of bio-oils and other bio-lubricants. LUBECO’s products fully comply with international quality standards (ISO:9001, ISO:14001), as well as the EU Ecolabel (a globally recognised certification scheme of environmental excellence). In addition, bio-oil products are far more environmentally friendly than traditional mineral oils, as they break down into water and carbon dioxide when released into the environment and come into contact with soil or water. LUBECO’s products are also carbon neutral, as the carbon dioxide emitted during decomposition equals the carbon dioxide captured when the oil was originally produced.

How does bio-oil get used in Forestry?

Bio-oils have been used in the European forest industry for many years now, and many countries in Europe (France, Germany, Sweden, Austria) have now made their use compulsory. This means that the bio-oil industry has had to make rapid advances in order to create products that are usable, as well as to keep up with demand (bio-oil hydraulic fluids and chainsaw lubricants are expected to make up between 4.3 – 6.1 % of total lubricant production by 2020). As such, for forestry, there is basically a bio-oil product match for every machine. LUBECO have hydraulic oils, bar and chain lubricants, saw guide and wire rope oils, gear oils, and 2-stroke oil, and both LUBECO and their distributers are happy to work with crews to help them find the best solution for their situation.

Previously common problems with bio-oils

In the past, contractors have been put off from using bio-oil products for a range of reasons, including perceived high costs of using bio-oils and the impact on their machinery, including voiding of warranties. PF Olsen has run several surveys over the years, and each time the perceived cost of the products has come back as one of the biggest deterrents for a switch over. However, both Olsen 80 and Wise on Wood believe that, for them, the cost of the bio-oil products is around the same price of other oil products, especially once you factor in the reduction in oil usage, and reduced wear and tear on the gear. PF Olsen spoke to Ben Gordon-Glassford, Regional Sales Manager for Oil Intel Ltd, who believes that a 40 – 50 % reduction in oil use is possible with bio-oils[1]. When you factor in that reduction, bio-oils suddenly become much more comparative in price (LUBECO Chain and Bar Oil 150 costs $96.00 on average for 20 litres. Factor in a 40% wind-back, and it costs a comparative $57.60 / 20 litres), plus crews get the added benefits of longer lasting equipment, and working with safer materials.

The other major concern of contractors in regard to using bio-oil products, is what their use will do to their machine’s warranty. According to Gough Cat, machine warranties cover workmanship and materials, and while they recommend that Gough Cat oils are used in their machines, contractors are not obliged to use Gough Cat oils. In fact, as long as the oils meet the specifications for the machine, then any oil product can be used, and it will not void the warranty. However, Gough Cat did say that contractors should refer to their machine’s specification manual first, and should consult with both their machine dealer (to understand the impact of using other oils on the machines’ components lifespan) and oil supplier to reach a solution that will work for everyone.


The New Zealand forest industry is a constantly evolving entity; one which likes to push boundaries and try new things. However, in regard to bio-oil uptake and usage, the industry is playing it extremely cautiously, primarily due to past issues with the products. A few of PF Olsen’s contractors are starting champion the bio-oils, and their findings are challenging the preconceived ideas around price and suitability (Table 1). With both machine manufacturers and bio-oil suppliers willing to work with forestry crews to ensure the best oil match and set-up for their machines, PF Olsen hopes to see a rapid increase in the use of bio-oils within forestry crews over the next few years.

Table 1: Summary of Olsen 80’s and Wise on Wood’s findings in regard to their use of bio-oil products in their chainsaws and processing heads.

[1] You can also decrease the level of standard oil used in forestry machinery (Wise on Wood found a 10 % wind-back with premium oil was possible), but the standard oil will not give the reduced wear/increased longevity on the machinery that a bio-oil will.