GF-5 Engine Oils: What, When, How?


Meeting in Detroit last week, ILSAC/Oil, the inter-industry committee responsible for gasoline engine oil upgrades, kicked off planning for the next one, GF-5. Although this new engine oil isn’t scheduled to enter commercial service until 2009, three dozen technical specialists representing auto manufacturers, engine oil marketers, independent test laboratories and chemical additive companies assembled for the first in a series of meetings that will extend over the next few years.

The Oct. 5 meeting tackled two issues — improving the engine oil development process, and “visualizing” the major issues for GF-5. The event was chaired by Bob Olree of General Motors, who also chaired the group during GF-4’s development.

GF-4 was approved on Jan. 14 by the International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC), which includes U.S. and Japanese vehicle manufacturers. Development of GF-4 inaugurated the ILSAC/Oil process; previously, tests, specifications and limits for engine oil upgrades were developed in collaboration with the American Petroleum Institute, although the auto industry retained both final decision-making responsibility and authority to issue GF (gasoline-fueled) engine oil specifications.

In order to extract whatever lessons could be learned from GF-4’s development, Olree had earlier established a task force to evaluate the GF-4 process and recommend enhancements for GF-5. The task force was chaired by Infineum’s Joan Evans (representing the American Chemistry Council), and included General Motors’ Mike McMillan, Cliff Venier of Shell (representing oil marketers), and Kevin Ferrick of API. Their report covered four areas: needs identification, test development, meetings, and the overall process.

Identifying a Need
The first step in the GF-5 process is for ILSAC (the automakers) to identify a need for a new category; this process is under way and is to be completed by the next ILSAC/Oil meeting in mid-January, or sooner. Once this “needs” document is accepted by ILSAC/Oil, the group can turn its attention to the formal GF-5 developmental process.

Evans’ report urged that potentially “acrimonious” issues — such as backward compatibility — be identified as early as possible to allow timely, constructive efforts toward resolution.

Larry Kuntschik, representing the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association, noted that ILMA would like to be able to participate in the needs development process. There was substantial sentiment at the meeting that this process should include as many stakeholders and interested parties as possible, while recognizing that API’s engine oil licensing program places this responsibility squarely on ILSAC. Other participants, it was suggested, could include the Japanese Automotive Manufacturers Association (JAMA), ASTM, the Automotive Oil Change Association and the Coordinating European Committee, as well as consumer groups.

Along the same lines, a suggestion was made that specific efforts should be made to provide prompt, widespread feedback on both the needs development process as well as the GF-5 developmental process itself. Publishing the official ILSAC/Oil meeting minutes on API’s web site was cited as a useful possibility.

Ways to increase consumer education about the benefits to consumers from GF-5 were discussed. This issue arose very late in the game during GF-4’s development. The sentiment this time is that consumer education should be addressed early on in GF-5, and perhaps it would be prudent to have a task force in place to consider it.

The committee was interested having a “technology assessment phase,” lasting four to six months, in the timeline to create GF-5. This step would take place after new engine tests had been evaluated by a matrix testing program but before final limits are set for GF-5 performance. This suggestion was received warmly by additive companies, which could use this period to test various formulation options. Both Lubrizol’s Lew Williams and Infineum’s Evans recommended a six-month period. While not rejecting the idea, vehicle manufacturers noted the importance of maintaining the agreed-upon timeline. “If other areas in the GF-5 timeline were slipping,” cautioned Tracey King of DaimlerChrysler, “the technology assessment period might have to be compressed to make up that time loss.”

Test Development
Development of the Sequence IIIG engine test for wear control was a central issue in GF-4’s progress. It was time-consuming, difficult and very expensive. Evans indicated that for GF-5, there should be early definition of both engine tests and bench tests.

Engine tests are at the heart of engine oil upgrades and were developed over a period of years to be used in lieu of fleet and field testing. Replacing engine tests with less-costly bench tests, where appropriate, is the logical next step, some feel. Ben Weber of Southwest Research Institute, the independent test laboratory, noted, “We are working on this issue.”

“The Sequence II was replaced five years ago with the Ball Rust bench test,” pointed out Olree. “It has worked well. Currently, the Sequence VIII engine test might be a candidate for replacement with a bench test.” However, he went on, “the use of bench tests is a way to get as big a bang for the buck as possible. While replacement of engine tests with bench tests is an important issue, it can done only to the extent that it serves everyone’s interest.” McMillan, his GM colleague, added, “We have to be very satisfied that the bench test will do what an engine test does and will take into account all of the variations and subtleties inherent in engine testing.”

The task force report presented some options for a new test development model, including the use of ASTM Surveillance Panels or task forces with wide membership among stakeholders.

Another possibility would be to borrow certain test development tactics from the CEC, summed up by Chevron Oronite’s Rich Lee as, “You pay, you play. That is, if you contribute to the cost of a test’s development, you will have a right to participate as the test is developed. If you don’t, your role will be limited.”

Olree stated that “the Sequence IIIG is a big improvement over the IIIF in almost every area,” and McMillan urged that “any possible alternative to a test under development should be highly unattractive in order to focus attention on the cost of failure.”

Improving the Process
Creating GF-4 required 23 meetings over more than two years. All meetings were held in Detroit and each was attended by three to four dozen people. Other options present themselves for GF-5, the task force noted. These include the use of stakeholder liaison representatives, more and smaller task forces, other meeting venues, teleconferences, call-in features for those not able to travel to meetings, and longer but less frequent meetings with time for caucusing over two days.

Before GF-4, ASTM was responsible for developing all new API Service Category upgrades. That is still the case for diesel engine oil and the next upgrade, PC-10, is under intense development. While ILSAC/Oil is a stand-alone process there is widespread recognition that ASTM (principally through its Passenger Car Engine Oil Classification Panel, chaired by Frank Fernandez of ChevronTexaco, and its Surveillance Panels) offers a wealth of experience. The Classification Panel, for example, might provide substantial help in both test development and in issuing specifications, primarily via ASTM standard 4485, “Specification for Performance of Engine Oils.” However, the Detroit meeting heard, the ASTM panel should evaluate its voting requirements, possibly with an eye to weighting the votes among contributing trade associations.

Finally, GF-4 and its companion API service category, SM, ideally should have been issued simultaneously, as was the case with GF-1, GF-2, GF-3 and their companion API categories, the Detroit meeting heard. Instead, ILSAC issued GF-4 in January and first API licensing began on July 31; the SM category was issued by API on May 30, and its first licensing won’t be until Nov. 30. In addition, many GF-4 requirements were not adopted by API for SM. Better linkage between GF-5 and the next API service category is a goal, attendees were told.

Visualizing GF-5
It is traditional for all new engine oil categories — tests, specifications and limits — to be built on the foundation of the immediate prior category. Not only is this a logical progression but it is technically the course of least resistance.

Now, however, there are hints that it may be necessary to look at the new category as a blank slate. During the ASTM meeting in June, Olree suggested it may be time to take a “broader look.” (See Lube Report, July 21.)

Approximately 50 percent of the new passenger cars sold in Europe are diesel powered, and that percentage is increasing. Diesel engines offer substantial fuel economy benefits while their driver friendliness is now comparable to gasoline-powered engines. Europe has gasoline and heavy-duty diesel engine oil specifications, called ACEA Oil Sequences, which correspond to API’s Service Categories. However, Europe also has a light-duty diesel engine Oil Sequence, which has no API counterpart.

“Will the new GF-5 category be formulated just for gasoline engines?” Lubrizol’s Williams asked the Detroit meeting. “What about the lubrication needs of new diesel engines, hybrids and direct-injected gasoline engines? How will they be lubricated when GF-5 is commercialized?”

Various automaker representatives replied that GF-5 will likely include direct injection gasoline and turbocharged engine requirements.

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