Technology to Battle Substandard Lubes


Technology to Battle Substandard Lubes
Traffic on a city street in Lagos, Nigeria. © Tolu Owoeye

Nigeria’s government and industry have worked for years to staunch the flow of substandard lubricants in the country. One industry insider suggested last week that more progress could be made if they incorporated technology to track and verify the legitimacy of products.

Speaking at the International Lubricants Conference, an online event for the Nigerian market, OVH Energy Marketing Chief Marketing Officer Lilian Ikokwu said such an approach would require progressive action by government, lube marketers and consumers.

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Nigeria’s lubricant market has long been been described as having a large portion of products that do not meet necessary performance standards – including counterfeits of established brand names and those made by companies without regard for equipment needs. Two federal agencies – the Standards Organization of Nigeria and the Department of Petroleum Resources have for years worked to crack down on suppliers of such products, sometimes with cooperation from industry groups such as the Lubricant Producers Association of Nigeria.

Ikokwu said the country has adequate laws against substandard lubes but that the problem persists because they are not sufficiently enforced. “When a commensurate sanction is not being applied to perpetrators, people are encouraged to continue with adulteration and selling of products whose performance level is not consistent with what they have on their labels.”

She added that some marketers and suppliers of lubricants feed off consumers’ ignorance “because when consumers are aware of what they are buying, it is quite difficult to sell to them something substandard.”

However, Ikokwu said technology could help stem the tide of substandard lubes in the local market.

There are things called biomarker fingerprints, which are like a signature on lube products and base oil. It makes it easier to spot base oil coming from locations that are substandard.

On the adulteration level, she said that chain tracking system and a radio frequency identification technology system could be deployed to track the movement of trucks from one point to another, thereby curtailing opportunities for people to pilfer because it is through pilfering that adulteration occurs.

On the side of consumers, Ikokwu said that one time codes, known as OTC, could be generated by short message service text messaging to help consumers validate the authenticity of lubricant products on the market.

The conference displayed a wide range of opinions about the size of Nigeria’s substandard lubricant problem. Ikokwu estimated that 70% of the lubes consumed in the country are substandard – a slightly lower portion of imports, which account for a quarter of volume and slightly more for products manufactured domestically, which account for three-quarters.

Lupan Executive Secretary Emeka Obidike claimed that Ikokwu’s estimate of 70% exaggerates the problem. “So where are all the machinery that are being knocked by this substandard lubes?” he said.

Local companies have long blamed imports for the problem, while foreign suppliers insist that much of substandard products come from local companies. Obidike maintained that members of his organization do not contribute to the problem.

“Let me say it without any fear or favor, members of Lupan operate in strict compliance to set standards,” he told Lube Report during a phone interview after the conference. “If you bring in an off-spec base oil, we will reject it. Local blenders are rejecting base oils that do not meet set standards in the country, and that is why people producing base oils from recycled oils are finding it difficult to sell to Lupan [members] because no blender wants to compromise standards.

Similarly, Hogl Energy Ltd. sales and marketing official Chijioke Dike said that the 70% substandard rate may be overrated, or else cars and machines would break down daily. He explained that substandard lubes in the Nigerian lubricant market could be traced to adulteration and misapplication of standards.

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