Shell: Engine Changes Challenge Lubes


Smaller engines with high efficiency rates and lower emissions are the latest industry trends that could pose big headaches for lubricant makers in the future, according to a Shell pundit.

Development of new technologies is a priority for the Anglo-Dutch oil major. In 2013 it invested U.S. $1.3 billion in research and development, which Shell claims is one of the biggest R&D price tags among the top oil majors.

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The world population is expected to increase to 9 billion people by 2050, and it would trigger two-folded energy demand by then, Wolfgang Warnecke, Shells chief scientist, told reporters during the Future Mobility Challenges and the Road to Innovation presentation held recently in Moscow. Seventy-five percent of the total global population will be urbanized dwellers, and we expect total vehicle use to reach 2 billion units by the middle of this century. Warnecke is also site manager of Shells technology center in Hamburg.

Higher global energy demand means higher demand for fuels and lubricants that must be designed to protect the environment, according to Shell. All these factors will bring about energy [production and consumption] challenges that couldnt be solved without use of innovative technologies, he said.

Shell found these challenges include access to energy and fuels, affordable mobility, CO2 emission reduction and traffic congestion, new technology options, changing consumer values and social acceptance. Oil currently dominates transport and will stay like that in the foreseeable future. No single alternative for oil-based transport is in the cards, and all fuel options and drive trains will be needed, including hydrogen and e-mobility, Warnecke said. Examples of e-mobility include electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

Market drivers for fuels and lubricants include CO2 emissions and fuel economy legislation, industry standards updates and continued expectations for performance as well as new types or grades of fuels and lubricants. Only those lubes with lighter viscosity that can reduce oil film thickness, friction and fuel consumption can make a difference, he noted. One of the challenges is achieving the lowest viscosity for engine protection and durability.

Warnecke observed that technology needs time to go from research to commerciality. We couldnt expect full-blown use of biofuels in the industry in two or three years, he said, adding that Shell expects huge quantities [of biofuels and biolubricants] will be used for industry purposes 20 to 30 years from now.

Shell is one of the leading companies in development of gas-to-liquids, a technology that in essence is conversion of natural gas to oil products via chemical transformation. These products include base oil, fuel, kerosene, naphtha or normal paraffin. GTL is more prospective technology and it can allow us production of synthetic liquid fuel with better properties compared to the traditionally refined fuel products, Warnecke said, adding that it took Shell 35 years of R&D efforts to reach the final stage when this technology could actually work and be viable.

The worlds first GTL plant was commenced by Shell in Malaysia in 1993. It had 15,000 barrels per day output. In 2011 Shell and Qatar Petroleum opened a large GTL complex in Qatar. At the moment the plant streams 140,000 b/d of synthetic liquid fuel, the oil major said. Also, the complex uses GTL technology to produce base oil, with 22,000 b/d of API Group III and 6,000 b/d of Group II capacity.

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