Fuchs Forecasts Raw Material Shake-up

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The lubricants industry – especially in Europe – will face largescale changes in coming years in the types of raw materials that will be available to it and the materials it will choose to use, an official from Fuchs Petrolub told an industry conference last week, due to the impacts of electric vehicles and the sustainability movement.

On one hand, Fuchs Chief Technology Officer Lutz Lindemann said during the International Colloquium on Tribology conducted online by Technische Akademie Esslingen, continued growth in the EV population will reduce demand for motor fuels, leading oil companies to scale back on refining operations and therefore reducing production of some petrochemicals.

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At the same time, he added, increasing attention on sustainable business practices will cause lubricant companies to replace some ingredients with alternatives that have smaller carbon footprints or that otherwise are more sustainable.

Together these trends could cause drastic changes in supply chains. Lindemann contended that organizations involved the industry should coordinate efforts to …

EV sales have been growing steadily and rapidly for more than a decade, and Lindemann said Fuchs expects the trend to continue. In Europe, for example, purchases of new plug-in hybrids and vehicles running solely on battery have reached 780,000 units per year, accounting for 8% of annual sales.

Lindemann predicted that BEV sales will swell to 5 million per year by 2035, around the time numerous European governments aim to prohibit sales of new vehicles powered only by internal combustion engines. This could translate to 50 million to 60 million BEVs on the region’s roads, he said, adding that the shift toward electric mobility will probably move a bit slower in China and more slowly still in the United States.

Vehicle fleets with greater portions of EVs require less gasoline and diesel, and Lindemann predicted that Europe, for example, could end up with 20% surplus petroleum-based fuel refining capacity – which would necessarily require refiners to scale back operations, affecting output of some petrochemicals including some used by the lubricants industry.

“Refiners need to adjust their landscape,” he said. “This decreases the availability of petrochemical base products.”

Efforts to make industry more sustainable could impact lubricant raw materials in multiple ways, Lindemann said. European Union officials are currently drafting a waste disposal directive that they hope to pass in 2023. One proposal currently included would enforce member nations to recycle between 60% and 80% of the lubricants that they demand. This would lead to an increase in volumes of rerefined base stocks and possibly cause further disruption to the refining landscape. Lindemann described this as potentially a positive development for the lubricants industry but added that rerefiners need to close the performance gap between rerefined base oils and polyalphaolefins and virgin API Group III base oils.

Changes of this magnitude create a number of challenges for the lubricants industry, Lindemann said – among them a need for technical standards and widely accepted sustainability criteria that could help make the transition more orderly. He contended that the industry has organizations that are able to develop these tools – groups such as

“The key element is we need to coordinate and align stakeholder interests linked to availability, linked to new technical standards and sustainability criteria,” he said. Chemical and lubricant additive suppliers will need to produce and use new materials, he added. Rerefiners will probably take on a bigger role than they have today. Automakers may have to adjust their lubricant performance demands a bit based on raw material availability.

Organizations such as the Additive Technical Committee, the Union of the European Lubricant Industry and the European Chemical Industry Council should do more to lead development of standards for calculating the carbon footprints of raw materials as well as finished lubes and life cycle assessments for the impacts of lubricants.

“The lubricants industry, which sets in between, needs to align and coordinate the interests and activities not as competitors but as part of the value chain,” he said, adding that organizations should also work to keep governments from adopting requirements that are harmful to the industry. They should “try to influence a new commission in a way that the regulatory framework in Europe does not kill the whole value chain,” Lindemann said. “And we are not too far away from having a quite confused value chain landscape in Europe.”

Europe needs to deal with such issues sooner than other regions because it is shifting faster to EVs and moving more aggressively toward sustainable business practices. But Lindemann predicted that other regions will eventually face the same challenges.

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