GF-5 Is Down to the Wire


The next passenger car engine oil upgrade, ILSAC GF-5, is hurtling towards the homestretch, but there’s still no guarantee that it will cross the finish line without stumbling. The American Petroleum Institute, which would license and enforce the category, has forwarded a proposal from the ILSAC/Oil Committee’s oil marketers to the committee’s auto industry participants, suggesting limits for fuel economy and piston deposits. A thumbs-up from the auto side – if it comes quickly – could keep the engine oils on track to launch commercially next fall.

According to Kevin Ferrick, engine oil licensing manager at API in Washington, D.C., every day has become critical in getting the category created in time for use in 2011 model year vehicles, as desired by the automotive industry. “The ideal is to have the specification approved this month,” he told Lube Report. “We could still then meet the first-licensing date of Oct. 1, 2010, that the auto companies want.” But he conceded that approval by the full ILSAC/Oil Committee hinges on a few technical points where auto and oil companies are not yet in accord.

These final hurdles include test limits on weighted piston deposits as measured by the Sequence IIIG engine test, and the fuel economy improvement to be demonstrated by oils passing the new Sequence VID engine test.

“I think we’re getting very close,” commented Thom Smith, technical director of Valvoline, who will join others in speaking about the impact of GF-5 on Dec. 3, at the upcoming ICIS Pan-American Base Oils and Lubricants Conference. “We’re all here with our fingers crossed. We’ve made an offer to the OEMs and they’re considering it now. But we will need their concurrence on the limits for fuel economy and weighted piston deposits.”

ILSAC (the North American and Japanese auto industry group that works on engine oil specifications) recently put its goals for these tests on the table. On Oct. 5, it issued a draft proposal which would set a merit rating of 4.0 for the IIIG deposit test, for example. The group also is relying on GF-5 oils to give a nudge to fuel economy. For SAE XW-20 engine oils, for example, it proposed at least a 1.2 percent improvement after 100 hours of aging in the Sequence VID test, and an overall gain of 2.6 percent when the oil’s initial and aged performance are added together. (Impenetrable as that sounds, it is the way fuel economy benefits will be gauged.)

The American Petroleum Institute’s Lubricants Committee reviewed the ILSAC proposal at its Nov. 9 meeting. The oil marketers responded by suggesting the Sequence IIIG rating for weighted piston deposits be set at 3.7 merits. They also asked the auto companies to reconsider the GF-5 fuel economy limits for XW-20 engine oils.

This is because deposits and fuel economy are deeply entwined, and have always required a balancing act between oil components, explained Valvoline’s Smith, who is based in Lexington, Ky. He told Lube Report, “What improvement you can make in weighted piston deposit performance actually hurts you on fuel economy, and vice versa. If you go up on one, it will hurt the other. So the oil companies essentially have asked the OEMs, ‘what is more important to you to achieve here?'”

Final agreement also is pending for a few other GF-5 properties, including test limits for seal compatibility. Such details may be close to resolution, but cannot be taken for granted, Ferrick stressed. Any disagreement among the ILSAC/Oil Committee stakeholders is not insignificant, he pointed out, since the group must approve – or reject – the category in its entirety. That means agreement must come on every one of the limits, “and each limit we agree on is moot unless the entire category is approved,” Ferrick added.

The final push on deposits and fuel economy limits somewhat clouds the positive resolution of numerous other GF-5 issues which had divided the oil and auto sides. The specification will include the TEOST 33C test for turbocharger deposits, for example, which automakers say is needed because turbochargers will play an even greater role in their future vehicles. Oil marketers had wanted to see more evidence that the test corresponds to actual field experience, but bowed to the automakers insistence.

The sides also seem to concur on setting phosphorus retention at 79 percent, the limit the oil-side stakeholders had urged, versus the 85 percent ILSAC had wanted. Phosphorus retention will be determined by the Sequence IIIGB test, a laboratory test of how much phosphorus remains in the oil following the Sequence IIIG engine wear test. This test is designed to assure automakers that the oil’s harmful phosphorus has not been exhausted from the engine into the emissions system, where it can poison catalytic converters.

Smith pointed out that both sides still must approve the final wording for the IIIGB test, as well as the language for the new ROBO test for used oil pumpability. “The wording has to be correct,” he emphasized. “These may be considered ‘not major,’ because everyone agrees on the concept. But you still have to get down the correct words so that we have a spec that all can vote on and agree to.”

If the ILSAC/Oil Committee can approve the category by the end of this month, it would permit industry participants to have a 30-day comment period, as is customary when developing consensus standards. ILSAC/Oil still would need to evaluate and resolve those responses in the waning days of the year, and to vote on the final specification before Jan. 1.

The step after that would be a nine-month waiting period, during which candidate oil formulations would undergo the full battery of GF-5 tests and prepare to enter the market on an even footing. The playing field would be wide open to all licensed GF-5 oils to display the API “starburst” symbol on their containers, beginning Oct. 1, 2010.

More details about GF-5, and its impact on auto makers, engine oil formulators and oil marketers, will be heard at the ICIS Pan-American Base Oils and Lubricants Conference. Attendees at the event, Dec. 3 and 4 in Jersey City, N.J., will hear from Valvoline’s Smith, as well as from Donald Smolenski of General Motors and Mayur Shah of additive supplier Lubrizol, all describing how the GF-5 upgrade will affect their respective industries. See for the full agenda and registration information.

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