In Praise of Group III


MOSCOW – From virtually nothing in the mid-1990s, API Group III base stocks now account for a significant and growing share of global base oil production, with better properties than Group II, according to SK Lubricants.
Total global base oil nameplate capacity in 2010 was around 927,000 barrels per day, while the share of Group III base stocks last year was 62,500 b/d, Jan Trocki, technical manager at SK Lubricants Europe, told Base Oils and Lubricants in Russia and the CIS conference here in April. Group III base oil capacity in 2010 held a 7 percent share of the total, he said, quoting the LubesnGreases 2010 Guide to Global Base Oil Refining.
With almost 25,000 b/d of Group III capacity, Seoul, South Korea-based SK Lubricants is first among the top ten global Group III base stocks manufacturers. The company operates two Group III base oil plants, one in Ulsan, South Korea and the other in Dumai, Indonesia, Trocki said. (The latter plant is a joint venture with Pertamina.)
In 2010 SK announced two new projects. The first project will stream in Asia in early 2013, and the second is going online in Europe in 2014. The European project is a joint venture with Spains Repsol YPF, in Cartagena, Spain. By 2014 SK is expecting to double its Group III base oil capacity from 1.3 million tons per year to 2.6 million t/y, Trocki said.
It will maintain SK Lubricants global leadership in terms of Group III base oil production, he continued. We also expect changes with the other leading Group III base oil producers, starting this year. Shell is expecting to stream almost 29,000 b/d of Group III base oils in its Pearl gas-to-liquid project in Qatar. Following Shell, Neste will become the third global Group III base stocks producer with its Bapco-Neste project in Bahrain later this year.
Additional new Group III base oil capacity announced to be ready by 2013 includes Nestes 10,000 b/d plant in Ruwais, United Arab Emirates, a joint venture between Neste and UAE refiner Takreer.
Polyalphaolefins, or Group IV base stocks, as well as Group V base stocks were expected to dominate the highest-quality finished lubricants business in the early 1990s, Trocki said. Back then, lube producers and OEMs were very reliant on these stocks and on a variety of esters introduced, he recounted, adding that manufacturers were already looking for lubricants to improve fuel consumption, engine performance and extended service intervals based on Group IV and Group V technologies.
The opportunity to combine Group IV and Group V base oil performances and actually deliver that to the automobile manufacturers in a product capable for factory fill and for extended service intervals was fulfilled with the emergence of Group III base stocks, Trocki asserted.
Back in the early nineties the typical oil drain interval was 10,000 kilometers, or two times per year. Towards the mid-1990s the oil change interval was set to 15,000 km, or once per year. And in Western Europe we started to see 5W viscosity indexes introduced by the OEMs for factory fill, Trocki said.
The impact of this was also tremendous on the service aftermarket, where 5W and even 0W grades were used for maintaining the vehicles with expired warranties. Even in the independent workshops around Europe, where OEMs have less control, we see a higher penetration of 5W or 0W products, Trocki said, adding that Group III base stocks are driving lubricants performance in terms of low volatility, low temperature, higher viscosity index, virtually zero sulfur, oxidation stability and frictional properties.
There is a lot of noise in the United States and in Europe for using Group II over Group III, he remarked. We should remember that Group II can still not achieve the cold cranking viscosity levels that can be achieved by Group III, and also the evaporation loss that can be achieved by Group III. This is particularly beneficial in the lubes formulations for diesel engines.
In addition, the U.S. and European Union this past decade imposed stiff regulations for fuel consumption and reduced emissions. The Euro VI requirements will be mandatory in 2013, noted Trocki. The requirements will be extended to heavy duty vehicles. It means that along with the light vehicles, all trucks will be equipped with particulate filters. Hence, all lubricants used for these vehicles must be low SAPS [sulphated ash, phosphorus, sulfur], to avoid contamination of the filters.
“All these trends were main drivers for introduction of Group III base stocks in the markets of Europe and America.
The end consumers are also satisfied with the comfort of longer drain and service intervals. Industry today has hit the 30,000 km oil drain interval target and is trying to maintain that, Trocki concluded.

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