API Seeks Answers for SM


With the new GF-4 gasoline engine oil upgrade now virtually certain to be approved later this year, industrywide interest has turned sharply to the details of API SM, the companion Service Category which will parallel GF-4 and replace the current API SL engine oil category.

The issues surrounding SM are more numerous and complex than they were for earlier categories. And as a recent meeting shows, backward compatibility of the new oils remains a nagging concern.

The GF-4 specification was developed by the stand-alone ILSAC/Oil Committee, composed of auto and oil industry representatives, and its scope is primarily North America and Japan. Only low-viscosity grades such as 5W-20, 5W-30 and 10W-30, which automakers recommend in their manuals, can meet GF-4s fuel economy requirements.

By contrast, Service Categories are under the full control and authority of the American Petroleum Institute; its Lubricants Committee has sole responsibility for development and approval of SM. APIs Service Categories, including SM, have a worldwide reach and include all viscosity grades – the ones mentioned above, plus popular multigrade weights such as 10W-40 and 20W-50, and also monograde engine oils.

On Oct. 2, APIs Lubricants Committee met by closed conference call to consider a proposal from Ciba Specialty Chemicals Co. regarding the phosphorus limit for API SM. Because phosphorus is detrimental to emissions systems, the ILSAC GF-4 specification limits the phosphorus content of engine oils to 0.08 percent mass, but Cibas proposal was to cap the SM phosphorus limit at 0.10 percent for all grades.

Ciba’s Vince Livoti told Lube Report afterward, Most of the cars on the road when SM comes out in 2004 will be post-1996 [models], and these cars and their emissions systems were all designed to run on 0.10 percent phosphorus oils. That was the phosphorus level for GF-2, which became effective in 1996, and continues through GF-3, the current quality level. So with all S category viscosity grades, not just ILSAC oils, capped at the 0.10 percent level, the engines and emissions systems for all 1996 through 2003 model-year cars would be protected.

As for emissions systems for the 2004 model year and beyond, which GF-4s 0.08 percent phosphorus limit aims to protect, Livoti reasoned, Even if all SM oils would be permitted to have a phosphorus level of 0.10 percent, if an oil marketer was going to display the [API] starburst as well as the donut, the phosphorus level would have to be at or below the 0.08 percent level to meet GF-4 limits, thereby protecting late-model cars. So both old and new engines and emissions systems would be protected across the board. The proposal, he added, has the advantage of simplicity and weve tried to keep it that way in the customers interest.

The Lubricants Committee disapproved Ciba’s simple proposal. During the meeting, however, Valvoline presented another proposal – one which added complexity. It called for splitting the lower part of APIs donut symbol, so that in addition to being able to claim the Energy Conserving label in the bottom half of the donut, marketers who met the 0.08 percent phosphorus limit could make another claim such as Emissions Compatible or Resource Conserving, with the exact label to be formalized later.

The Lubricants Committee made no decision on this proposal.

Oddly, API had closed the entire Oct. 2 session to the public. In the development of standards, API subscribes to the requirements of the American National Standards Institute, including the core principle of due process and open meetings with reasonable and convenient access available to everyone with an interest in any standard being considered. That standard was adhered to for all meetings of the ILSAC/Oil group that developed GF-4, too.

Yet, despite protests by LubesnGreases magazine, API declared that Ciba’s SM proposal was a policy issue and not a standards issue subject to ANSI due-process requirements; it placed the discussion of this issue in a business session and closed the conference call to outsiders.

In a separate communication to LubesnGreases magazine, Valvolines Fran Lockwood, chairman of APIs Lubricants Committee, stated, SM will get a thorough public development process beginning this fall.

The issue of backward compatibility has been foremost in many of the technical discussions regarding the new GF-4 specification and the companion SM category. In the spring, for example, Ciba suggested to API that two API Service Categories, SM and SN, be created to parallel GF-4: One category would provide oil marketers flexibility with respect to emissions systems compatibility limits, the other would more closely resemble GF-4 with the exception of fuel economy requirements. This way, both engines and emissions systems should be protected by using API-licensed oils.

At the time, Ciba noted that market dynamics in regions outside the United States make it impractical to restrict the phosphorus content of oils sold in those regions. In addition, oils meant for use in older cars or mixed fleets also present hurdles for phosphorus-restricted S category oils.

Cibas proposal of two companion categories would have been a clear break with past practice, where only a single companion to a GF category had ever been considered or approved. APIs Lubricants Committee, meeting in open session in May, did not accept this proposal either.

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