Group II Takes Hold in Europe

A decade ago, API Group II base stocks were a phenomenon that had largely overlooked Europe. The region produced almost no Group II, and its demand for that grade was small and inconsistent.

Today Europes consumption of Group II is steady and growing, as an official from additive supplier Infineum noted at a recent industry conference. With growing demand for technical performance that Group II can help provide - and with new suppliers entering the European market - it seems safe to say that Group II will retain its place in the region.

The base oil supply base and consumption patterns in Europe began diverging from other regions back in the 1990s and early 2000s, as the lubricants industry shifted from Group I oils. North America began making large amounts of Group II and little Group III, while Europe produced moderate amounts of Group III and no virgin Group II. In Asia refiners built capacity for Group II and III.

North America did consume some Group III, importing from Europe and Asia to supplement the regions sole significant Group III supplier, Petro-Canada. In Europe, though, Group II usage was constrained to occasional shipments from the United States.

Group II started to take hold in Europe, however, after Chevron established a supply hub in Antwerp, Belgium for oils that it imported from the U.S. At the ICIS World Base Oils & Lubricants Conference in London last month, Yannick Jullien, Infineums lubes customer technical service manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, noted that Europes Group II demand gradually grew. By 2011, he said, There was this sort of imbalance between the East and West. There was this start of imports from the U.S. to Europe of Group II. At the same time there was this export of Group III from the Middle East and Korea to the U.S.

Today Chevron has at least five supply hubs in Europe, and additional Group II suppliers are entering the market. Luberef recently upgraded its base oil plant in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, to produce Group II and plans to export some of its output to Europe. ExxonMobil has also begun exporting Group II to Europe and is building a Group II plant at its refinery in Rotterdam, due to open in early 2019. Rosneft is scheduled to complete a Group II upgrade this year at its plant in Novo-Kuibyshev, Russia.

ExxonMobil's Rotterdam Group II plant construction

Photo courtesy of ExxonMobil

Now the situation will be different, he concluded. There will be several suppliers offering Group II here and a broad set of different cuts on the market ranging from 4 centiStoke, 5 cSt, 6 cSt and 12 cSt.

The number of suppliers and variety of products should encourage further uptake of Group II. Jullien explained that there are also solid technical reasons for the use of that grade. Group II oils have higher levels of saturates and lower levels of sulfur than Group I oils, meaning they provide better oxidative stability and cold-temperature performance and that they are more compatible with catalytic converters than Group I oils.

As a result, Group II can be an effective choice, Jullien said, as the core base stock in mainline European passenger car motor oils with Noack volatility of 13 percent or less. Some amount of Group III may be needed as a correction fluid as viscosity grade decreases, say from 10W-40 to 5W-30 or 5W-40. For premium European PCMOs, with Noack of 10 percent of less, formulation is more difficult and may require a blend of Group II and III for the core base stock and polyalphaolefin as a correction fluid.

As automotive engine oil performance demands continue to rise, the role for Group II may shrink, especially in premium products. But Jullien predicted that Group II use will increase for other categories of products, such as marine lubricants.

Apparently base oil marketers believe this will add up to significant Group II demand in Europe for the foreseeable future.