Panel: Group II Will Bring Challenges in Africa


JOHANNESBURG – Sub-Saharan African lube blenders have been slow to switch to API Group II base stocks, but speakers at an industry conference here said they will need to shift soon and that base oil and additive suppliers can help with the challenges that will bring.

A June 25 question-and-answer panel at the Argus African Base Oil and Lubricants Conference suggested blenders will use Group II for some of their base stock needs to avoid falling behind the competition.

Chevron Base Oil Product Manager for Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East Wai-Fong Chen said automakers are raising engine oil standards and making it difficult to formulate those oils without higher quality base stocks.

Nynas Naphthenics Senior Lubricants Technical Coordinator Thomas Norrby said the global trend to replace some Group I with Group II or III will certainly reach Africa within five years. Lubricant producers on the continent therefore need to prepare for the change, he added.

Chen agreed and added that beginning to incorporate Group II will raise a number of technical and logistical issues for blenders. She advised to seek support from base oil and additive suppliers.

To move from Group I to Group II is workable, but you have to use the right additive, Chen said. We have come across customers that came back to us with challenges from switching from Group I to Group II for industrial products, but our advice is that it is important to use Group II with the right additive when you switch from Group I to Group II.

Norrby discussed the industrys experience in Europe, where blenders were motivated to use Group II or III base stocks but not both (for years the region focused on Group III stocks) due to logistical challenges of adding base stocks. He predicted African blenders will encounter the same issues, but will find it impractical to completely replace Group I. Yes, Group II will be desirable to meet the needs of [heavy-duty motor oils], the most recent specs, but you still have the legacy products on the automobile side, Norrby said.

So if you do a lot of industrial lubricant and legacy business, you certainly will need Group I for the foreseeable future. Therefore, if you have many blending plants, you could switch one to Group II and make only transmission fluid.

Norrby added, With the increasing complexity in the industry, the additive companies really have to select what base oils are they going to try get approval for, for this or that car maker. So, even if it looks simpler on paper, it actually means that in the end, not all solutions will be available in all base oils. I think the market will take a liking to base oils which are most available just because they give more choice in finished formulations.

Nick Gill, base oils trader for Chemlube in Geneva, Switzerland, emphasized that the transition from Group I to Group II in Africa will be driven by price.

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