Big Additive Suppliers Halt Sales in Russia


Big Additive Suppliers Halt Sales in Russia
View of Sadovoye ring road with car traffic jam in Moscow, Russia. © Yulia Grigoryeva

The world’s largest lubricant marketers – which also happen to be among the biggest energy companies – were quite public when they decided to withdraw from Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

By comparison, the globe’s main suppliers of lubricant additive packages were quieter about halting business in Russia, but their exits could make a bigger impact on the country’s lube market.

Infineum, Lubrizol Corp., Chevron Oronite and Afton Chemical Corp. have stopped supplying additives into Russia, two industry consultants told Lube Report. Without their products, Russian lube marketers are challenged to manufacture engine oils recommended for recent model year European passenger cars, which make up a significant portion of the country’s vehicle parc.

Western entities such as the European Union and the United States imposed economic sanctions against Russia after its February invasion of Ukraine. Among other things, the sanctions forbid transactions with Russian state-owned banks and oil companies. The central government owns a majority of companies such as Rosneft and Gazprom, which are among the nation’s biggest lubricant suppliers, but Lukoil, the market leader, is privately owned. Business with privately-owned Russian companies is still permitted, but many companies chose to shun the market altogether, either in protest or because of problems with payments and logistics.

Two independent consultants in the Russian lubricant industry told Lube Report recently that the big four lube additive package suppliers stopped supplying products to the country. One of the sources was Tamara Kandelaki, general director of InfoTek, a Moscow-based consultancy. The other spoke on condition of anonymity, noting that impacts from sanctions is a sensitive subject in Russia.

Lubrizol, Oronite and Afton are headquartered in the United States, Infineum – which is a joint venture between ExxonMobil and Shell – in the United Kingdom. Together they supply a vast majority of additive packages around the world – especially for automotive engine oil meeting recent specifications.

Additive packages consist of all of the individual chemical additives or components that go into a lubricant, combined with enough base oil diluent for them to dissolve in. Packages suppliers usually have conducted research to develop formulations that meet finished lubricant performance specifications and paid for testing at independent laboratories to document performance. Consequently they supply not only the ingredients that are blended with base oils to make finished lubes but formulary knowledge and documentation that lubricant companies provide to prove their products meet performance standards.

Lubrizol, Afton and Infineum declined to comment for this article. Oronite confirmed to Lube Report that it ceased activities in Russia.

The consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity said Russian lubricant manufacturers are turning to additive package suppliers in other countries – such as India, the United Arab Emirates and China – to replace the products they were buying from Lubrizol, Infineum, Afton and Oronite. There are a number of such suppliers around the world, but most lack the technology to meet the latest engine oil specs.

For example, Richful Lube Additive Co., sells additive components and some packages, including packages that meet API SP, API SN and API SM, the three latest passenger car engine oil specs adopted by the American Petroleum Institute for the North American car market. But Richful, which is headquartered in Xinxiang, China, does not offer packages meeting recent ACEA specs developed by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association or European OEMs specs that are based on ACEA standards.

Other potential replacement suppliers mentioned by the anonymous consultant do not offer products meeting recent ACEA or API specs.

As a result, he said, engine oils formulated with Chinese additives would not qualify to claim compliance with recent specs issued by European OEMs such as Mercedes-Benz, Renault or Volkswagen.

“Russian oils formulated with Chinese additives can be used only for servicing the Korean, Japanese and Chinese makes that recommend API-specified lubricants,” he said. Ford also recommends oils meeting API specs.

Russian motorists are well aware that German, Italian or French cars up to several years old risk engine damage if operated without oils meeting the latest ACEA or OEM specifications. These specifications stipulate certain properties such as viscosity and chemical composition or that they have passed engine tests for parameters such as wear protection, resistance to oxidation and contribution to emissions control.

The Russian market is adapting to these extraordinary conditions. Russian news sites about the automotive industry are full of commercial stories that offer replacement products made by smaller, Turkish, Serbian or German lube makers that are continuing to ship products to Russia.

Among them are Germany-based Bizol and Belgin, which is headquartered in Turkey. The reports claim these companies’ products have some approvals for “technically complex BMW motors” and because of that, their synthetic products can still be used in other German equipment such as VW, Audi, Mercedes or Porsche.

Neither Bizol nor Belgin company responded by deadline to inquiries from Lube Report.

Kandelaki said the situation certainly challenges Russian lubricant manufacturers and the country’s auto industry, but she said the lubricant industry may rise to the occasion.

“In short, not comfortable but not critical,” she said. “We have the components, we have the capacities. And this is a chance for the domestic additive makers. Or how they say now, a window of opportunity” is opening.

There are lube additive suppliers in Russia and Belarus that Russian lube marketers could tap. The most prominent of these is Qualitet, which does offer engine oil packages as well as additive components. According to its website, however, its packages meet only older API specs and no ACEA specs.

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