API Grapples With SM Oil Spec


After seven weeks in winter hibernation APIs Lubricants Committee came sharply awake with two conference calls to develop specifications for APIs new companion category to ILSAC GF-4, to be called SM. Vehicle manufacturers issued GF-4, the new gasoline engine oil specification, through ILSAC, the International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee, on Jan. 14. APIs Lubricants Committee is responsible for defining the SM specifications which will become a worldwide standard. It has 13 members: three chemical additive companies and 10 oil companies.

On Feb. 5 and 12, the API committee spent close to four hours in two conference calls focused on SM. Twelve voting members participated in the Feb. 5 meeting, 11 in the Feb. 12 meeting.

Everyone hoped that the conference calls would lead to agreement on an SM preferred specification. They didnt, not even close. Instead, at least one other conference call will be required as well as a face-to-face meeting, it appears.

Formal balloting, with a one-month voting period, will begin next week on two SM options and several technical issues that will be voted on by the API committee. A face-to-face committee meeting will be scheduled in late March to deal with the ballot comments, of which, based on the conference calls, there will be plenty across a wide spectrum.

With smooth sailing, the SM specification could be issued as early as April. More than likely, the SM seas will continue to be rough.

To organize its discussion API divided the proposed SM specification into two options. Further, each option also had a viscosity grade split – the grades of concern to ILSAC (0W-20, 0W-30, 5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30) in one group, and the remaining multigrades and all single-viscosity grades in an Others group.

The philosophical difference between the two options boiled down to two words – equivalency vs. flexibility.

Option 1
Option 1 was the equivalency package, which follows the historical pattern in effect for all earlier API companions to the GF category. This option hews close to the ILSAC specification for both the ILSAC grades and Other grades.

For the ILSAC grades in this option the principal difference between GF-4 and API SM would be no requirement for fuel economy as measured by the Sequence VIB engine test.

Starburst oils have phosphorus and sulfur limits, and these oils could also display APIs other legal mark, the donut, and include a phrase Emissions System Protection (ESP) in the lower part of the donut. The phrase, Emissions System Protection is called a holding phrase, meaning that the committee had not decided on its final language and used this phrase for descriptive purposes only. The ESP language will now share the lower part of the donut with the energy conserving notation. Prior to SM, the bottom third of the donut has been reserved solely to indicate the energy conserving features of the oil.

And following past practice, if an API C category oil is formulated for diesel engines and the S category designation precedes the API C category, there would be no limits on phosphorus or sulfur.

Turning to the Others group of Option 1, no Gelation Index is required nor, of course, a Sequence VIB which measures energy conserving. Nor will a Sequence IIIGA, which measures aged oil low-temperature viscosity, be required for viscosity grades higher than 10W-XX multigrades. The committee voted 12 – 0 in favor of this specification. Single grades have no low-temperature requirement nor a need for this test.

There are no limits on either phosphorus or sulfur in the Others grouping.

The TEOST bench test, which measures high-temperature deposits, has an ILSAC limit of 35 mg, rising to 45 mg for Other oils. The discussion on this limit was spirited. Lubrizols Lew Williams noted that, We have data that shows that the test itself is biased against thicker, that is, higher viscosity oils. So test results for these grades have nothing to do with quality, or chemistry, its a physical phenomenon.

General Motors Mike McMillan summed up the auto industry position, There are many areas in the world where ILSAC grades are not prevalent. We count on the performance requirements of non-ILSAC grades in those areas.

The committee voted seven in favor of maintaining the higher 45 mg limit; two members opposed and two waived.

(Keep in mind that a formal written ballot will be issued next week. For all the limits which are still under discussion, companies will have an opportunity to revisit them at their leisure; they are free to change their position.)

That basically sums up Option 1. It is strongly favored by auto companies across the board and representatives of four auto companiesparticipated in the Feb. 12 conference call. GMs McMillan noted, The further we get away from equivalency, particularly in the ILSAC viscosity grades where weve never had differences before, the more difficult its going to be for us to be able to take advantage of any gains weve made in GF-4.

He added pointedly, If the differences between GF-4 and SM become too great, some auto manufacturers may take action to recommend against the use of SM oils in any part of the world, unless the oils also contain the API starburst certification mark, or are somehow labeled as meeting all GF-4 performance and compositional requirements.

Option 2
Option 2 allows more flexibility because, as Valvolines Fran Lockwood pointed out, Major oil companies have worldwide operations and there is a big difference in worldwide base oil quality, emissions standards and vehicle and customer requirements.

In Option 2, the ILSAC grades dont have a Sequence VIB requirement to qualify for SM. These oils also can meet the GF-4 specifications for phosphorus and sulfur and display the starburst and donut. If they meet the GF-4 phosphorus and sulfur limits, they can also display Emissions Systems Protection in the donut. They are permitted to be different from Option 1, however, in the phosphorus and sulfur levels. In this case, ESP would not be allowed in the donut.

Phosphorus in SM oils will be permitted to go to 0.10 percent maximum compared to 0.08 percent maximum in GF-4. Sulfur can go to 1.0 percent maximum compared to 0.7 percent for ILSAC 10W multigrades and 0.5 percent for 0W and 5W multigrades in GF-4. The committee voted eight in favor, four opposed and one abstain on the 1.0 percent maximum sulfur limit.

A phosphorus minimum of 0.06 percent had been included in the GF-4 specification. This minimum had been proposed by the Japanese Auto Manufacturers Association. ExxonMobils Doug Deckman summed up JAMAs data by noting, JAMA states that in some cases higher-than-acceptable wear was observed at 0.05 percent phosphorus while at 0.06 percent, wear was improved to an acceptable level. The API committee voted five in favor, four opposed and two abstained on the question of authorizing a minimum.

With this close a vote, committee Vice Chairman West Alexander of ChevronTexaco, who led the Feb. 12 meeting, was authorized to decide whether to send this to letter ballot and he decided affirmatively. Voters will be asked to vote for or against a minimum phosphorus limit and to include a preferred minimum level in their ballot, even if they voted against a minimum level.

As for the Other grades in Option 2 the specifications are the same as for the Other grades in Option 1.

Selecting an Option
Close to two hours after commencing the Feb. 12 session, Alexander called for a vote on the preferred option. Four members favored Option 1 and seven favored Option 2. A letter ballot will follow with the closing date in mid-March or later. A meeting before the final ballot closes was suggested to be able to discuss the formal comments prior to a final vote.

In the Feb. 5 session Chevron Oronites Rich Lee noted, Were getting awfully close to the introduction of GF-4 [coming July this year] and in order to put together product slates for our customers it is extremely late in the process to be addressing the various options. The sooner we get this defined the better.

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