Engine Hardware Propels Base Stock Upgrades


LONDON – Internal combustion engines, both gasoline and diesel, will be the power plants of choice through 2015 and beyond, despite intense activity on alternatives, Infineum predicts. Tomorrows cleaner engines will drive greater investment in higher quality API Group III base stocks, likely GTL-derived. This in turn will require new industry efforts to generate data and define new base stock interchange rules for these Group III stocks.

Advanced engine hardware is being introduced in both mature and developing markets, Infineum Internationals Brian Crichton, manager, industry liaison, told the ICIS World Base Oils Conference here on Feb. 17. Increasing concern over energy efficiency and security of energy supply are driving a worldwide focus on fuel efficiency, alternative fuels and advanced and alternative power plants.

The internal combustion engine will continue to dominate at least through 2015, said Crichton, who is based in Oxfordshire, England. A significant portion of the light vehicle population will be hybrids in the same time period. Light duty diesel popularity will stabilize or decrease in Europe, but increase significantly in North America. And intensive research on fuel cells will continue, but they will not achieve significant volumes in the next decade.

Hybrid, Fuel Cell Options
Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Volkswagen, Porsche, General Motors and Daimler Chrysler have all developed or announced plans to develop hybrid vehicles for a wide range of market segments, said Crichton. Hybrids offer significant fuel economies compared to gasoline power for light to medium duty urban operation, and thus are popular in the United States.

Hybrids are also important to automakers, to demonstrate technology leadership, Crichton said. But put this in context: 2005 U.S. hybrid sales of 200,000 vehicles, in a market of 17 million light vehicles, is very small. There is a significant cost differential, and hybrids are currently heavily subsidized. Modern diesels offer good fuel benefits and lower costs.

Crichton predicted that hybrids will gain a maximum 15 percent market share in North America by 2015, with substantially less penetration in Europe. The potential in other markets is unclear, he noted.

Fuel cells offer the best long-term potential, using hydrogen fuel and offering high part-load efficiencies, Crichton continued. There is considerable fuel cell research underway, and many equipment manufacturers have demonstration vehicles.

But fuel cells are far in the future, Crichton contended. The most optimistic projections call for some 50 million vehicles by mid-21st century. But this will require in excess of U.S. $20 billion investment in infrastructure, and substantial improvements in manufacturing cost structure. For example, he said, some fuel cell components require clean-room manufacturing conditions.

Other fuel cell challenges include durability over prolonged operation; extension of vehicle range; low temperature startability (because water is a by-product); and the challenges of creating a hydrogen fuel infrastructure.

Internal Combustion Here to Stay
The gasoline engine is cheap, cheerful and can be clean, Crichton said, and it still offers potential for significant improvements in fuel efficiency.

The light duty diesel engine has inherent efficiency advantages over gasoline engines, but is more expensive to manufacture. It continues to be adaptable, but at very significant cost versus gasoline engines. This balance of increased cost against fuel efficiency will become important, Crichton said, as gasoline engine efficiency improves at lower cost.

However, he continued, there is a strong possibility that light duty diesels will have significant penetration on the North American market, as concerns increase on energy costs and consumption. In Europe, the light duty diesel engines penetration will diminish somewhat by 2012, as the efficiency benefit is eroded by increased cost. And the Asia-Pacific market will remain principally gasoline engine.

The heavy duty diesel engine, on the other hand, will remain the power plant of choice for large load-carrying vehicles, said Crichton. There is no alternative. On the heavy-duty side, original equipment manufacturers will meet emissions standards at the lowest possible after-treatment hardware cost and with some penalty in absolute fuel economy.

Crichton sees widespread adoption of diesel particulate filters. NOx limits in Europe will be achieved via urea injection and selective catalytic reduction for heavy-duty and long-haul vehicles. Selective catalytic reduction may spread to North America and other markets, while exhaust gas recirculation and diesel particulate filters will be used increasingly in urban and light-duty applications.

Lubes and Base Oils
For light duty vehicles, said Crichton, more severe operating conditions and longer drain intervals are pushing demand to higher quality base stocks and higher additive treat rates. There is a push to align oil change intervals with other major service intervals, and toward fill-for-lease. European light duty diesel specifications may spread to North America, as Group II and Group III base stocks provide better high temperature protection.

Lower sulfated ash, phosphorus and sulfur (SAPS) requirements will continue to restrict the ability to use conventional additives, said Crichton. Use of ZDDP will continue to decline as the demand for new and more costly additives increases. The long drain vs. low SAPS conflict adds to the push for higher quality base stocks.

Hybrid lubricant requirements will follow conventional light duty, Crichton noted, but with the potential for customizing lube requirements to duty cycle. The hybrids downsized power plant and stop-and-go operations require low temperature sludge protection and resistance to emulsification.

Heavy duty vehicles, now almost exclusively diesel, will increasingly turn to alternative fuels, including biomass-derived fuels, and natural gas in urban areas. The demand for higher fuel efficiency will require lower viscosity lubricants with low volatility and high viscosity index, said Crichton. It sounds like GTL. As with light duty, the heavy duty side will see further pressure on SAPS, more severe operating conditions, extended drains, and increased use of API Group II and/or III base stocks.

For all lubricants, the use of OEM internal specifications is likely to increase, Crichton predicted, resulting in increased product complexity. And the increased availability of API Group II and III base stocks, including GTL, will encourage OEMs to further upgrade their requirements. As the proportion of the vehicle pool requiring high quality base stocks increases, it will drive further investment in GTL and other high-quality base stock supply.

This in turn will drive a reexamination of product qualification engine testing rules, Crichton concluded. Very limited interchange is currently allowed [for the highest quality base stocks]. This is a problem if they are used for mainstream grades.

Crichton urged greater industry cooperation to generate the data to define differences within Group III base stocks, and to establish new read-across interchange requirements.

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