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Environmental Concerns Drive Lube Demand

November 28, 2011The lubricants industry will need to find alternative markets for its products over the coming decades, as nearly 30 percent of the world’s cars produced in 2030 are expected to be hybrid vehicles, which need far less lubricants than today’s cars and trucks.

MOSCOW – The lubricants industry will need to find alternative markets for its products over the coming decades, as nearly 30 percent of the world’s cars produced in 2030 are expected to be hybrid vehicles, which need far less lubricants than today’s cars and trucks.
Global production of plug-in hybrid electric and flex-fuel or liquefied petroleum gas vehicles will reach around 19 million units, or 19 percent of annual vehicle production by 2020, but the sheer number of conventional drivetrains will grow as well. “There will be such an increase in the number of conventional cars produced by 2030 that the [lubricants] industry would benefit from this,” Christoph Wincierz, Evonik Oil Additives’ global OEM, industry and technical manager, told the RPI International Lubricants Russia Conference on Nov. 9.
The number of hybrid and low-emissions vehicles is expected to rise, peaking in 2030. Of an estimated 105 million cars to be produced in 2030, 30 million will be hybrids or electrics, according to data from the Nomura Research Institute. Because lubricants are used in much smaller amounts in such vehicles, Wincierz noted, “from then on the industry must find a solution to use lubricants elsewhere besides in cars with conventional engines; for example, in wind energy, agriculture or natural gas engines.”
In conventional engines, lighter viscosity engine oils such as SAE 5W-20 and 0W-20 grades are helping to increase fuel efficiency about 5 percent over older 10W-30 oils, he said. Beyond that however, “the lubricants can’t improve the fuel efficiency dramatically – we speak here about a 1 to 2 percent [additional] maximum improvement. There should be clear technical solutions on the engine side.”
Discussions continue about adding a new viscosity level for regular oils in the SAE J300 viscosity grade system, below SAE 20 (the lightest non-W grade today). The aim is to reduce frictional energy losses in the engine by defining oils, such as SAE 0, SAE 5 or SAE 10, with lower high-temperature/high-shear viscosity, according to Wincierz. Even a new “SAE 8” grade is in the talks at the moment, he said, “but there are particular problems because some of the specifications will overlap. This is all done to improve the fuel efficiency.”
Passenger and commercial vehicles are not the largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the World Resources Institute, he pointed out. “Road transport accounts for only 16.3 percent of the world carbon dioxide emissions and non-road transport for only 2.7 percent,” Wincierz said, adding that all other industries like manufacturing and construction, electricity generation and heating, together produce more than half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. “These are also areas where fuel emissions reduction should be strictly controlled. The target for about 10 to 20 percent of fuel emissions reduction in Europe will be set not later than 2016, around the same time as in the United States [2013] and Japan [2015].”
The lubricants industry has already responded and is doing its part, Wincierz said. For example, a new specification for heavy-duty engine oils, PC-11, has been requested for 2016; when introduced, the new oil will likely be called API CK-4. “It is driven by the need for improved fuel economy and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is also driven by the need to replace old engine tests with new technology engines.”
Using hydraulic hybrid systems is another way of improving fuel efficiency in the powertrain. In this case, the main target of the engineers is optimizing engine operation and using the energy that is wasted during braking sequences, according to Wincierz.
“The transmission is replaced by a hydraulic motor and hydraulic pump system, and when you brake, you pressurize the accumulator; when you accelerate, you use the stored energy,” he explained. “The engine starts and stops running only at the optimal points.” An accumulator stores fluid at approximately the working pressure of the hydraulic or pneumatic system in which it will be employed, so that a supply of fluid is always immediately available to the system.
Lubricants will play a big role in these hydraulic systems, Wincierz said. “Some OEMs such as Komatsu developed hydraulic oils that are used in hydraulic systems with minimal volumetric losses. These fluids’ characteristics include high viscosity at operating temperatures, high shear stability, and a high viscosity index,” he noted, adding that such lubricants are more expensive than simple monograde hydraulic fluids, but the benefits pay off. “The OEMs are introducing such lubricants now because legislation is [requiring] efficiency now.”
Closing on a note of caution, Wincierz stressed that these efficiencies will not be free. Excluding hybrids and electrics, the U.S. government estimates that reducing fuel consumption and emissions of new passenger cars and light trucks by 45 percent will add an average of $2,000 to $3,000 to the cost of each vehicle, he said; other research pegs that cost at over $7,000 per unit by 2025. Meanwhile, an EU study on energy costs estimated that Europeans will see their household energy spend double to over 15 percent of annual income in 2030, and the price of electricity grow by up to 50 percent.
Those present big opportunities for fuel-efficient lubricants. The big unknowns include how willing people are to change their consumption habits, he concluded, and the speed at which emissions targets can be reached, especially in light of Europe’s ongoing economic distress.