API to Work on Supplemental Oil Category

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Meeting here yesterday, the American Petroleum Institutes Lubricants Group voted unanimously to move forward on establishing a supplemental passenger car engine oil category, as requested by the auto industry. In addition to supplying all the protections of current API SN and ILSAC GF-5 products, this as-yet-unnamed supplemental category would immediately help protect turbocharged engines against the catastrophic phenomenon known as low-speed pre-ignition (LSPI), without waiting for a full category upgrade.

The Lubricants Group was unable to affirm, however, that the supplement could be up and running as soon as Jan. 1, 2018, as the automakers International Lubricants Standardization and Advisory Committee (ILSAC) had hoped. The Lubricants Group did, however, draw up a detailed list of action items and practical issues to resolve so that a realistic timeline can be nailed down.

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The issues to be resolved range from the lack of a ready test for measuring engine oil performance under LSPI conditions, to how to incorporate a light-duty engine oil supplement into APIs licensing system, to the nitty-gritty of how marketers might distinguish the supplement on their product labels.

Ron Romano of Ford Motors opened the meeting by reiterating that ILSAC feels the supplement is urgently needed and is achievable by Jan. 1 with existing oil and additive chemistries. There are a lot of turbocharged engines in the fleet already, he stressed, and they will be in 25 percent of vehicles sold this year. LSPI protection is promised to be part of the upcoming GF-6 specification, but that upgrade may not appear for two more years, while action on LSPI is needed now.

He pointed out that there are a lot of products in the market now that conceivably could pass an LSPI test, including some top-tier products and ones licensed to General Motors latest Dexos 1 update, which incorporates LSPI performance. Ford itself has developed an ASTM engine sequence test to measure LSPI that should be accepted soon — perhaps next month — into the American Chemistry Councils Code of Practice (a requirement for all tests that support API categories).

Romano had suggested that either the Ford LSPI test or the GM version could be used, but API members reminded that GMs test it is not included in the ACC Code of Practice, and thus cannot be used to support an API category or supplement.

The Lubricants Group also voiced concern that base oil interchange and viscosity grade read across guidelines are still lacking for the Ford LSPI test. Once testing begins under the auspices of ACC, BOI/VGRA data and guidelines might be generated relatively quickly, but its absence so far is a major stumbling block to a Jan. 1 launch date, attendees repeatedly pointed out.

There also is the question of whether the industry will have enough engine test stands and spare parts to support both this supplement and the upcoming GF-6 category, whenever it arrives. This is one reason why BOI and VGRA loom so large, because the stockpile of test engines will be depleted far more quickly if these guidelines are not in place. BOI/VGRA also reduces the amount of time needed to get engine oil formulations approved and out to the marketplace.

Romano said ILSAC also is proposing that there be no change to existing ILSAC GF-5 licenses: In the marketplace, those oils would still be able to show the API Starburst trademark on their front labels. The Starburst will still represent the present ILSAC GF-5 category, he said. Rather, ILSAC hopes the new supplements designation could appear in the bottom of the API donut symbol on back labels. The group agreed to consider that idea, and API should be able to circulate some designs for comment relatively soon, said Kevin Ferrick, APIs engine oil manager.

ILSAC also suggested that a statement such as For turbocharged engines be placed on product labels, but that idea did not gain traction with listeners.

The Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association, represented by Larry Kuntschik, stated that in its view the Jan. 1, 2018, deadline is feasible as long as things move along quickly and enough time is built in to refresh labels and marketing materials and to fairly secure API licenses. He emphasized that ILMA members, many of whom are smaller or regional blenders and marketers, want to be assured that they will have the opportunity to be in line for product testing programs and technical support from their additive suppliers.

Others at the meeting expressed concern that drafting and implementing a supplement now will deflect resources and attention from the difficult task of completing GF-6. Even so, the Lubricants Group was able to draw up a substantial list of action items that to be knocked out so that a timeline can be set for the proposed LSPI supplement. Some of these are:

  • Incorporate a process for establishing supplemental categories into API 1509, the legal document that governs API engine oil licensing;
  • Determine how this supplement will be designated on labels;
  • ACC will add the LSPI test into its Code of Practice, and begin registering tests;
  • Complete an LSPI test matrix for BOI/VGRA; also collect, code and analyze any existing data that formulators may be able to share;
  • Determine availability of needed test stands and parts;
  • Marketers will share their views on timing with API;
  • API will draft a set of donut logos for LSPI products.

Before adjourning, the Lubricants Group agreed to meet next month in Detroit to review progress. Noting that the Auto Oil Advisory Panel will meet there on the morning of Sept. 14, they scheduled a standards meeting that afternoon. Afterward, Romano told Lube Report that he was pleased at APIs positive response to the request for a supplemental category, and hopeful that it will manage to clear the many practical and technical hurdles.

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