One Global Spec? Don’t Bet the Rent!


OSTFILDERN, Germany – Globalization is changing lubricant and lubricant additive markets around the world, breaking down boundaries and diminishing differences. But this phenomenon will have its limits, according to an Evonik RohMax Additives executive, who predicted that significant differences in lube additive demand will remain, due to variations in equipment usage and other regional idiosyncracies.

It is tempting to assume that lubricant additive consumption patterns throughout the world will converge, said Rudiger Jelitte, RohMax vice president of business development. But there are a number of reasons why that is unlikely to happen, he told the 16th Colloquim Tribology at the Technische Akademie Esslingen here in mid-January.

Jelitte said globalization is certainly affecting the lubricant industry. Manufacturers of vehicles and other equipment that use lubricants are becoming more and more global in the scope of their businesses. As a group, these companies are generally moving toward global platforms that make their equipment uniform wherever it is sold. The engine specifications for a Mercedes Benz sedan built in the United States, for example, are looking more and more like those built in Germany.

Other harmonizing factors are also at work, said Jelitte, who is based atRohMax’s Darmstadt headquarters. Consumer expectations around the world are converging, he said, as are environmental and other regulations that are driving much of the change in lubricant demands. Original equipment manufacturers and lubricant companies are also pushing toward development of global lube performance standards.

The general profile of lubricant markets already looks similar wherever one goes. Engine oils for passenger cars and heavy-duty diesels constitute between 40 percent and 55 percent of total lube consumption in all major regions. Industrial oils account for between 29 percent and 43 percent, hydraulic oils between 9 percent and 14 percent.

If the same lubricants are used in different regions, it stands to reason that they would likely contain the same additives. The additive industry already has a strong global bent, with a handful of companies dominating supply in most areas of the world.

But Jelitte noted that there are also some big differences in lubricant use in different regions. The most fundamental may be the variation in per capita lubricant consumption. Industrialization would seem to be a major factor in determining consumption. South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia – all largely developing – have per capita lube consumption rates ranging between 2.3 and 3.6 kilograms per year. In the developed regions of Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe and Australia, per capita consumption ranges from 12.5 kg to 15 kg per year. If lube consumption depends on industrialization, one might expect rates in developing areas to trend toward those in already-developed areas.

But North America bursts the neatness of the pattern, with a whopping rate of 31.6 kg per capita per year. The lesson, Jelitte said, is that other factors in addition to industrialization – driving habits, sump sizes, comparative wealth – also affect lubricant consumption rates. And he suggested that some of these factors will continue to keep consumption patterns from becoming too uniform.

There are also some key differences in equipment design among regions that are expected to endure despite globalization. For example, automatic transmission fluids currently account for approximately 85 percent of the transmission fluid market in North America, and should still constitute more than 80 percent of the total in 2035, Jelitte said, citing industry projections.

In Europe, on the other hand, approximately 80 percent of todays transmission volume is manual transmission fluid. But dual clutch transmissions (DCTs) are becoming more popular, and products for such equipment are expected to account for 85 percent of the regions transmission fluid demand by 2035.

Japan presents still another scenario, with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) and the fluids they demand projected to soak up 40 percent of the market by 2035.

Jelitte explained that these trends have important implications for the lubricant additives that will be needed in these regions.

Each type of transmission calls for its specific set of performance requirements, addressed by different formulation strategies, he said. Fluids for manual transmissions and DCTs both require synchronizer performance, but fluids for automatics and CVTs do not. Automatics and DCTs both require anti-shudder durability. Belt-driven CVTs need additives that provide precise levels of friction between steel surfaces, while troidal CVTs require unique traction properties.

Relative popularity of different engine designs also varies. Approximately 80 percent of cars in North America run on gasoline. In Europe, however, nearly half are powered by diesel. A full 40 percent of South Americas fleet runs on biofuels. Some differences exist in the engine oil additives needed by these vehicles.

Jelitte said some regions will retain peculiar regulations despite the overall push toward harmonization – and that these rules will affect lubricant markets. He cited the European Unions REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) regulation, which shows no signs of being duplicated, predicting it will pinch the flow of low-volume additives into the region.

He added that variations in climate will always preserve some difference in lube performance requirements. Pour-point depressants are obviously more important in colder regions.

Overall, Jelitte concluded, there appear to be plenty of forces fighting the trend toward one-size-fits-all lubricants. An abundant, diverse and increasingly capable array of high-performance lubricant additives will be required to meet the lubricant needs of the future.

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