Quality of Motorcycle Oils Revs Up

MUMBAI - Like passenger cars and trucks, motorcycles in Asia are facing growing pressure for fuel economy and emissions controls, and this, combined with consumerdemands, should raise the quality of engine oils used in two-wheelers, an Infineum official told an industry conference here last month.

Speaking at the ICIS Indian Base Oils & Lubricants Conference, Ong Keat Lee, a technologist with the United Kingdom-based lubricant additive supplier, cited India as an example of Asian nations where legislation affecting motorcycle emissions looms.

Bharat Stage IV emissions limits - equivalent to Euro IV regulations in the European Union - are currently in effect for two- and three-wheel vehicles. India, which is now the biggest and fastest-growing motorcycle market, recently announced that the country will skip BS V limits and proceed directly to BS VI for two- and three-wheelers, as well as passenger cars, in 2020.

Motorcycles also face fuel economy mandates. A requirement that two-wheelers emit no more than 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer is scheduled to take effect in India next year, Lee noted, and the limit is expected to be lowered in 2021.

These requirements will push manufacturers of motorcycles and scooters to make design changes similar to those implemented in cars, Lee said, adding that these could range from fuel injection optimization to use of technologies that capture air pollutants. In cars, engine oil formulators have had to reduce use of sulfated ash, phosphorus and sulfur (collectively referred to as SAPS) because of concerns that they compromise control technologies. Lee said motorcycle oil market is not there yet but is headed in that direction.

Although as of now there are no in-use performance targets for catalytic converters, but phosphorus restriction may be part of future expectation, he said.

Photo: Nam-ho Park / Flickr

It appears that increased focus on fuel economy is influencing the markets uptake of lighter oils, he added. According to U.S.-based consultancy Kline & Co., he noted, motorcycle engine oil demand in India will rise from 181,000 metric tons in 2014 to 327,000 tons in 2025. Heavy grades 20W-40 and 20W-50 accounted for two thirds of demand in 2014, and demand for them will increase by approximately 100,000 tons per year through 2025, according to Kline. But demand for 10W-30 products is increasing at faster rates, and that grade should constitute approximately 28 percent of the market by 2025, or 10 percent higher than in 2014.

Asia, which accounts for 90 percent of global motorcycle production and 80 percent of global sales, has been showing increasing signs of embracing the global fuel economy trends by responding with engine design changes and use of lower viscosity grades, Lee said.

Equipment manufacturers and consumers are also pushing oil performance demands, Lee said. A top tier of products is developing that offer attributes such as more engine power, greater acceleration and a more sensitive feel for the clutch. At the same time, consumers buying lower-tier products expect good protection against wear, heat, friction and acids.

In addition, lube blenders are introducing a range of oils marketed for specific types of two-wheelers or patterns of using them, including scooters, big or small motorbikes, and motorcycles used for racing, touring or some other type of severe use.

To help meet these demands, formulators are making increased use of API Group II base stocks, which offer cost-effective performance benefits for lighter motorcycle oils, and Group III synthetic stocks, which allow marketers to offer distinctive levels of thermal stability, antioxidant performance and wear protection.

According to Infineum, all of these preferences create opportunities for oil suppliers.

Superior-quality lubricants enable increased equipment protection, and compelling value propositions for the user market, from performance to lower cost of ownership, he said.

Infineum surveyed motorcycle owners and repair shop operators in the Indian cities of New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, along with Jakarta, Indonesia, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Bangkok, Thailand, beginning in 2010, about the performance characteristics they most value in motorcycle oils and their criteria for choosing an oil. The 1,200 responses, showed that the top oil-related concerns were oil leaks, oil becoming too thin, oil becoming too dirty, oil consumption and high levels of engine smoke.

Lee contended that the results can help formulators develop and market new products

Oil leakage signifies an opportunity to create a segment for high-mileage bikes, he said. Oil thinning indicates a need for a more shear-stable finished formulation. Oil consumption [indicates] a need for better base stock quality at the same viscosity grade, and improved piston cleanliness for proper ring sealing. However, consumers need more education on what causes dirty oil and smoking engines, he said.

Infineum developed a formula for what it describes as a next-generation motorcycle oil. A 5W-30 that offers improved fuel economy, it was formulated with all Group III base stocks to improve oxidation and reduce volatility. The additive company used salicylate detergents and a dispersant system designed to keep the engine cleaner, along with radial viscosity modifier. It also tamped down phosphorus levels to improve compatibility with emissions control catalysts.

The resultant oil performed well within API SN engine oil sequence limits for high-temperature oxidative stability and control of piston deposits and sludge. It also maintained Jaso MA2 clutch friction performance for 3,000 cycles and provided wear protection at least similar to 10W reference oils.