News & Features

E-Fluids, A Brave New World for Lube Makers
© zaurrahimov

E-Fluids, A Brave New World for Lube Makers

By Boris Kamchev - Apr 14, 2021

The growing fleet of electric vehicles is creating new challenges for the lubricant and automotive industries. Market players of all sizes are getting ready for the post-big oil era. They are establishing new business units, kicking off new projects for the development of corresponding, or totally new, lubricant solutions and forming partnerships with startups in the EV hardware and software sectors.

One such company is Zeller+Gmelin, a lubricant maker based in Eislingen, Germany, and is looking for quick entry into the growing EV lube segment. The company recently started a partnership with PEM Motion, a spinoff of Aachen University’s Production, Engineering and Research Department, for development of what have become known as e-fluids designed for electric-powered vehicles of various types.

“Completely new requirements arise from electrification of the powertrain and the driveline system, which in turn have an impact on the properties and composition of our lubricants,” Christian Stapper, the company’s product manager for lubricants, said in a recent news release.

Zeller+Gmelin, which produces lubricants, chemicals and printing inks, has been developing and distributing automotive engine and transmission oils for decades. Now the company is trying to take a share in the e-fluids segment and thinks its cooperation with PEM Motion will give it a deeper understanding of the new field of e-fluids and e-mobility.

“The first step will be a concrete evaluation of the main products of interest to Zeller+Gmelin and the associated processes,” the company said. “This will then be used to develop a new market strategy that includes the OEMs and suppliers relevant to e-mobility and is intended to generate new sales in the long term.”

Shell, among a handful of others, stepped into the e-fluids arena and started to promote a line of these products in 2019. While EVs have far fewer moving parts, they do not have a reduced need for lubricants, according to a company official.

“E-fluids are a key growth area because electric vehicles require a wide range of lubricants, greases and process oils,” Gunnar Meister, principal technologist of Shell’s base oil lead team, told an industry event recently.

For example, he said, coolants are needed to help reduce heat generated by car batteries, e-motors, inverters – which convert the direct current from the battery to alternating current for the motor – and the many meters of copper wire.

E-fluids can be applied in a number of driveline systems, Simon Evans, director of Lubrizol’s strategic OEM Group, said during the ACI European Base Oils and Lubricants conference held online in January. The U.S.-based lubricant additives company is part of the American corporation Berkshire Hathaway, whose chief executive is Warren Buffett.

Evans gave an overview of the types of drivelines already introduced in the market. In addition to the traditional and start/stop ICEs, they include mild, full and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, as well as range extended, battery and fuel-cell EVs.

IHS Markit, a London-based consultancy, predicts that more than 60% of all vehicles in the world will be electrified or will feature some kind of electrification by 2032, while somewhat less than 40% will be traditional and start/stop ICE drivelines. The consultancy also predicts that in the EV market, mild hybrid and BEVs will make up the largest share. In comparison, traditional and start/stop ICEs accounted for almost 90% of the global powertrain product in 2020, according to IHS Markit.

“Each of the engines used in these vehicles can be quite different,” Evans said. “They will have different ways to put power to the wheels, be designed differently and used differently. Hence, an engine may be fitted but rarely used, creating further new requirements for their lubricants.”

He added that the new driveline fluid technology will include e-axle fluids as well as e-automatic, e-dedicated hybrid and e-dual clutch transmission fluids.

All of these novelties are big challenges for lubricant marketers and opens for them an exciting future in the brave new world of the electric mobility.