Which Grease Thickener is Right for You?

Selecting the appropriate grease thickener is crucial for ensuring the longevity and optimal performance of your machinery and equipment. Among the various types available, lithium complex, calcium sulfonate and aluminum complex-based greases are prominent choices.

Each type of grease thickener possesses unique characteristics that make it suitable for specific applications. In this article, we will explore the differences between these thickener types to help you make an informed decision based on your equipment's specific needs.

Lithium Complex Grease

Lithium complex greases are versatile and widely used in various industrial applications. They are known for their excellent water resistance, thermal stability and mechanical stability. Lithium complex greases can operate efficiently in a broad temperature range, making them suitable for both high and low-temperature applications. They also exhibit good shear stability, ensuring consistent performance under heavy loads.

Lithium complex-based greases differ from lithium-based greases because of its second thickener component known as the complexing agent. Both grease types are equally shear stable and water-resistant, but the complex version has a higher dropping point to allow the grease to work at higher temperatures.

Mystik® JT-6® Heavy Duty SynBlend 460 #2 Grease is blended with a premium lithium-complex thickener system that is designed for a wide variety of heavy-duty applications. It is an exceptional grease because it exhibits excellent wear control, stellar extreme pressure (EP) performance and provides outstanding water resistance and superior corrosion protection.

Another popular lithium complex-based grease from the Mystik JT-6 grease product line is Mystik® JT-6® High Temp #2 Grease. It combines excellent multi-purpose properties with a high dropping point and low-temperature pumpability that provides a wide operating temperature range. This versatile grease also delivers spectacular shock-loading protection and is ideal for a wide variety of automotive, trucking, mining, construction and industrial equipment.

Calcium Sulfonate Grease

Calcium Sulfonate production has increased in recent years, but this thickener still ranks lower than lithium-complex, lithium soap and aluminum complex in North America. Calcium sulfonate only accounts for 9.8 percent of North American grease production based on the 2022 NLGI Grease Production Survey.

Nevertheless, calcium sulfonate greases are a good choice when there is the potential for exposure to water. Mystik CalSuPlex® 5% Moly #2 Grease is a durable and versatile calcium sulfonate complex grease, suitable for use under heavy load and high-temperature conditions. It contains 5% molybdenum disulfide to improve its performance and durability, especially in harsh environments. This grease is particularly good at staying in place and continuing to lubricate even when exposed to water, making it reliable in wet conditions. It's designed to offer added protection against wear and corrosion, making it a good choice for industries such as construction and mining where equipment faces tough challenges.

Calcium sulfonate-based greases also provide some inherent extreme pressure (EP) properties and rust protection. There are, however, issues to be concerned when it comes to these greases. The thickener content and density are higher than that of a comparable lithium complex grease. This can make calcium sulfonate greases harder to pump.

With usage of a calcium sulfonate-based grease, ensure that it is reaching the application so lubricant starvation does not take place, particularly if the grease is pumped long distances via a centralized lubrication system. Poorer flow characteristics are a greater concern in colder temperatures, so this may not be the best thickener for cold applications.

Aluminum Complex Grease

Aluminum complex greases account for 12.5 percent of North American grease production and are valued for their high-temperature performance, and water resistance. They exhibit excellent water resistance and are suitable for applications where high temperatures and heavy loads are common. Aluminum complex greases also provide good adhesion to metal surfaces, ensuring effective lubrication even under challenging conditions. Typically, this grease thickener is used for applications in the food, automotive, steel, construction and agriculture industries.

Mystik AluPlex Plunger #00 Grease is a high-performance, semi-fluid lubricant for frac pump plungers, offering enhanced protection and efficiency across various temperatures. This grease also reduces friction and wear. Effective in extreme pressure conditions, it provides strong anti-wear properties and resists rust and corrosion, especially on copper and brass parts.

For situations where there is a possibility of incidental food contact, we recommend our range of Clarion® Food Machinery HT EP NLGI No. 1 and 2 Grade Greases. These aluminum complex-based greases are engineered for challenging environments, delivering outstanding extreme pressure (EP) and antiwear performance. These advanced formulations offer excellent rust protection and are designed to withstand high temperatures due to their high dropping points and oxidation inhibitors. Their exceptional adhesion qualities ensure robust sealing and resistance to water washout, making them ideal for applications where durability and reliability are paramount.

The NLGI No. 1 grade grease showcases excellent pumpability, suitable for centralized lubrication systems in beverage bottle filling operations. For applications in food processing plants, our greases are NSF H1 registered, meeting strict USDA standards for incidental food contact. The NLGI No. 2 grade is further certified under NSF/ANSI Standard 61, affirming its suitability for food processing and packaging machinery.

While offering several benefits, aluminum complex thickeners also present certain limitations. Notably, they exhibit poor storage stability, especially in variable storage conditions. These greases can experience "false set", a condition where they become temporarily harder if undisturbed, potentially impacting flow and application. Additionally, oil separation can occur, diminishing the grease's lubricating effectiveness. It's crucial to consider their limited compatibility with other grease types, as mixing different thickeners can lead to suboptimal results and mechanical inefficiencies. These factors underscore the need for careful selection and application in specific use cases.

Consider All the Facts

Understanding the unique properties of lithium complex, calcium sulfonate and aluminum complex greases is crucial when selecting the right lubricant for your machinery. It is also important to consider the many other factors that make up the grease you are using such as its base oil, additives, viscosity and more along with the type of thickener you may be selecting. By considering the specific demands of your application, you can ensure optimal performance, extend equipment life and minimize maintenance costs.

For questions about grease thickener types and selecting the appropriate grease for your application, please review our Mystik Grease Application and Performance Chart or consult with our CITGO Lubricant Technology team.