Consultant: Hybrids Will Need Group III+


The trend toward electrified vehicles will mean an increase in demand for API Group III+ base stocks because they will be needed to formulate engine oils for hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars, a consultant said at a recent industry conference.

Pathmaster Marketing Principal R. David Whitby told the ACI Base Oils and Lubricants Conference on Nov. 21 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, that internal combustion engines in plug-in hybrids will need SAE 0W-XX and 5W-XX crankcase lubricants formulated with low-viscosity Group III+ base stocks. Non-plug-in mild and full hybrids will use SAE 0W-16 and 0W-12 oils formulated with siimilar base stocks.

At the same time, he added, demand for API Group II and III base stocks will probably decline.

However, oil change intervals are likely to be longer than at present, reducing demand for Group II and Group III base oils. While an increasing number of motorcycles are being manufactured with battery electric driven motors – rather than two or four-stroke engines, particularly in China – this will likely reduce future demand for Group I and Group II base oils, as well as synthetics, such as polyisobutene base stocks.

Whitby added, though, that it will take years for these changes to happen. “Hybrid and fully electric passenger cars comprise a very tiny percentage of the total global passenger car park and the numbers will grow, but over a longer time frame than many people believe,” he said.

Pathmaster, which is located in Woking, U.K., predicts that in the era of electrically-powered transportation, the availability of the batteries will be a key limiting factor.

According to Pathmaster, the rate at which EVs will penetrate car parcs is unknown but will depend largely on the global economy. If worldwide gross domestic product can sustain an average annual growth rate of 4 percent, the Earth’s total vehicle population will increase from 1.2 billion today to 2.1 billion by 2035, Whitby said, and EVs will account for a bit more than half of that number. If global GDP only grows 3 percent annually to 2035, the vehicle population will increase to 1.7 billion, including approximately 550 million EVs.

Miniscule adoption of electric trucks means the category is expected to have less of an impact on lubricants, according to Whitby.

Currently, only 0.04 percent of the total number of heavy-duty trucks in the European Union are hybrid electrics. Electric trucks are considered to be uneconomic, as the batteries are too heavy and take up too much space and operating ranges are too short. An increasing number of trucks are being converted or manufactured to run on compressed natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas, he said.

On the other hand, vans and other light commercial vehicles could have bigger consequences for lube demand because, like buses, vans do not need to have a large operating range, as they are only used for about 14 hours a day, so can be recharged easily overnight.

Pathmaster expects a increasing number of vans to likely be electric or hybrid electric in the years to come, and this could drive the demand for Group III base oils.

Buses also are expected to have a lesser effect on the lubricants, according to Pathmaster.

First, the total number of buses is relatively small, compared with the numbers of cars and trucks. Most buses do not need to have large operation ranges, as they are only used for about 14 hours a day, so they can be recharged easily overnight. “As more buses are either built with battery packs or converted to battery power, demand for Group I and Group II base oils that is used in engine oils will decrease,” Whitby said.

The consultancy found that 17 percent of all buses worldwide are currently all-electric, while another 12 percent are powered by natural gas.

The effects of developments in electrical power on other means of transportation, such as airplanes and ships, will also be minor. Electric, battery-powered planes are under development, but current prototypes are small and not able to travel very far, while battery- powered ships are not a realistic option, except possibly for some fishing vessels.

The growth in demand for Group II and Group III base oils is driven mainly by regulators and OEMs requirements for fuel efficiency, and not by the introduction of hybrid electric and electric vehicles.

The future growth of hybrid and electric vehicles will depend on government regulations and the availability of large numbers of batteries. “Future demand for lower viscosity Group II and Group III base oils will depend on the growth rate of hybrid and electric vehicles and the growth rate of passenger cars in total,” Whitby concluded.