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Archive for June, 2009

Something that just about every bike has in common is the need for lubrication and the occasional degreasing.  The use of lubes and solvents by eco-concious individuals can be hard to do.  I’m dedicating multipe parts to this topic with the hope of getting comments and refining my information.  If you have a opinion, or information you’d like to share, please feel free to comment.  There are a TON of products out there, many claim to be eco-friendly, and many clearly are not.

Lets start with degreasing.  There are a few options when you go to buy a degreaser.  You can go with a petroleum distillate like mineral spirits, kerosene, or something similar.  You can get a citrus degreaser, such as Paris Citrus Cleaner and Degreaser, or Pedro’s Orange Peelz.  You can get cleaner that doesn’t really fall into these two catagories such as Paris Green Heavy Duty Cleaner/Degreaser, or Nashbar BBD Degreaser.  There are, of course, other products out there, but I can’t list them all.  You could also opt for other industrial solvents that are not petroleum based such as acetone, turpentine, or the bit more rare ethyl lactate.  These last few don’t seem so popular among cyclists, but I’ll mention ethyl lactate again later.

There are a couple different schools of thought on eco-friendly degreasing that I am aware of.  The predominant is that your choosen product must be biodegradeable, and not from a petroleum source.  Fair enough.  The problem with this is that these products are biodegradeable. What!  yes, thats right.  Because they breakdown, you need to replenish your supply more often.  You have your bucket of biodegradeable degreaser in your garage and you use it all the time, and every now and then you filter out the dirt and grime.  Thats great, but one day you notice your degreaser is not degreasing very well so you dump it out and refill it with more.  Over the course of the year you end up buying way more bottles of degreaser than if you used a non-biodegradeable degreaser.  Each one of those bottles had to be produced, packaged, and delivered.  What kind of carbon footprint are we talking about here?  How much dissolved grease went down the drain with your biodegradeable solvent?

The other major school of thought is using a long lasting, non-biodegradeable degreaser.  The problem here is that these are usually toxic, and are produced from petroleum.  Lets take mineral spirits as an example since I’m quite familiar with it.  If you use it a lot you have to wear gloves, and sometimes a mask, but you can filter it and use it over and over and over again.  At some point you have to replenish because it evaporates, splatters, or is mucked up from particles that pass through your filter.  It also works incredibly well.

Which is better?  I’m not really sure.  I’m beginning a course on life cycle assessment, so I’ll have the answer in a matter of a few (or more) months because it will be one of the first things I analyze.  Obviously, boycotting petroleum products is a good idea for the environment (not to mention a load of other reasons), so I’m inclined towards a non-petroleum product that is industrial strength, non-toxic, and non-biodegradeable, or biodegradeable with a very long life in the presence of oxygen.  I’m not sure if this exists, but ethyl lactate comes close.  The only problem is that it’s biodegradeable.  Not to mention, I’m not sure its widely available.  I’d like to try it to see how it performs.  Here’s a place I can get it for what looks like $83 for 2.5 liters.  I may try it once I get my new garage up an running in Monterey, CA.

I am well aware of companies out there working with belt drive bicycles, direct drive bicycles, and greaseless components, but the majority of bicyles out there use grease and oil for lubrication.  I’m commited to solving this, and finding out what we as sustainable cyclists need to be doing to minimize our impact to Earth.

Stay tuned for Part II.

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I’m curerntly moving to California, and have to put things on hold with the site.  I’ll be back doing research and writing articles after June 18.

I’ll also be taking a course on life cycle assessment so I’ll be able to come up with better conclusions as to what products are more sustainable.  Exiting!

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