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Last month I wrote about the new fuel economy and emissions requirements for heavy-duty trucks that have been promulgated by the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. Those mandates are in the foreground as the lubricants and auto industries start work on defining the next generation of heavy-duty engine oils, designated for now as PC-11.

As most of you know, PC-11 is a designation which means proposed category, 11th iteration. Thats a shorthand way of saying that the requirements developed will lead to a new commercial engine oil category for licensing by the American Petroleum Institute.

API Document 1509, Appendix D, lays out the procedure for developing a new commercial category. It basically is a three-step process that starts with a formal Category Request from the Diesel Engine Oil Advisory Panel, a joint committee of API and the Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA).

Phase 1: A New Category Evaluation Team (NCET) is established to formulate an industry response to the request. As Im writing this, PC-11s evaluation team is preparing to make its initial recommendations to the Diesel Engine Oil Advisory Panel.

Phase 2: Category Development. Here a new group – the New Category Development Team (NCDT) – takes the recommendations from Phase 1 and establishes what tests and limits will best measure the new oils performance. This is the nitty-gritty of the new category and takes years to complete.

Phase 3: Category Implementation. Formulations meeting the requirements are developed and tested, engine oils are licensed, and new products begin their commercial rollout.

Right now, were still in Phase 1. The NCET, under team leader Dan Arcy of Shell, met for the first time on Aug. 19 to consider DEOAPs request for a new heavy-duty engine oil category. This category is needed for first licensing by Jan. 1, 2016, according to a June 21 letter to API and DEOAP from Greg Shank of Volvo/Mack Powertrain, who chairs the EMA Lubricants Committee (and also co-chairs the DEOAP). In his letter, Shank outlined the issues facing engine builders and what steps are necessary to achieve the goal of producing a new heavy-duty category, designated as PC-11.

Heavy-duty engine oil fuel efficiency is directly related to high-temperature/high-shear (HTHS) performance; however, many engines require the current HTHS level of performance to achieve acceptable engine durability, he pointed out.

Therefore EMA/TMA requests that the PC-11 category be split into two separate and distinct subcategories with corresponding HTHS performance levels, one that preserves historical heavy-duty oil criteria and one that provides fuel efficiency benefits.

Both subcategories should provide improvements in oxidation stability, aeration benefits, shear stability, and compatibility with biodiesel blends, Shank added.

Under NCET guidelines, the group can review the information provided and respond in one of three ways: (1) support the request, (2) deny the request or (3) not reach a consensus. I dont think that either choice two or three has ever come out of NCET deliberations.

Still, in order to reach consensus, the NCET must consider a great many factors. Some are relatively straightforward: What is the proposed change, and why is it required? Do data presented support the request? When is it needed in the marketplace?

Not so clear are other issues, including the potential impacts on engines, new and existing. What are the potential impacts on consumers? What are the potential impacts on the environment? How could the change affect existing API categories? Are performance tests available that properly evaluate the performance needs requested?

Also of great importance to the industry as a whole is whether the perceived benefits outweigh the projected costs, including costs to develop test procedures, precision data, Base Oil Interchange and Viscosity-Grade Read-Across guidelines. Whats the estimated total cost to carry out the work if the need is approved?

Its obvious that the NCET has its work cut out and will need to move quickly, given that Jan. 1, 2016, target date for introduction into the marketplace. At this writing, the team was due to present its findings and recommendations on Oct. 7; the process then would proceed to the NCDT for test and limit development.

I spoke with Dan Arcy about the evaluation team and the points that need to be resolved. He confirmed the needs outlined by Greg Shank and expanded a bit on some of them. Arcy noted that the proposed change is needed because of changes in engine hardware as well as new EPA regulations requiring additional fuel efficiency.

In addition there are issues of test obsolescence, with some critical engine tests no longer relevant to current hardware. For instance, the Mack T-12 test (for ring and liner wear, corrosion and oxidation) will be replaced by the T-13; there are other tests as well which do not represent modern engine design. Arcy also made the point that API CJ-4, the current diesel oil category, will be 10 years old at the point in time when PC-11 is expected to go live (1/1/2016).

As noted above, PC-11 must provide improvement over CJ-4 in oxidation stability, aeration benefits, shear stability and compatibility with biodiesel blends. All of those requirements point to more than one test needing to be developed.

Additionally, the proposal to split the PC-11 category into two separate and distinct subcategories will require corresponding performance levels and tests. One subcategory would preserve and improve on historical heavy-duty oil criteria including higher HTHS, and would be fully backward-compatible per current practice. The other subcategory would provide fuel-efficiency benefits through lower HTHS while maintaining durability – but may not be backward-compatible. However, the oils contribution to fuel efficiency would probably be dictated only by the HTHS level, given the diesel industrys clear recognition of the fact that lower HTHS means better fuel economy. At least we likely wont have a fuel economy test for heavy-duty engine oils!

From the API side, the licensing and labeling issues could be pretty complex and I expect well see some tough negotiations on that point. For instance, how would the fuel efficiency for heavy-duty engine oils be identified? Will the API donut contain fuel-efficient terminology similar to what we see for Resource Conserving passenger car engine oils, or would there be a second starburst-type logo for the container? Will there be a suffix to the category as is the case with the current category, CJ-4?

For those who dont remember, the 4 suffix came about when there were still two-stroke cycle engines in the heavy-duty engine market (primarily Detroit Diesels). Although many performance requirements are similar for both designs, large two-cycle engines had some unique needs that made a shared oil category virtually impossible. To get around the differences, a subcategory system was created, with 4 designating oils preferred for four-cycle engines and 2 identifying those formulated for two-cycle engines.

While a number of heavy-duty two-cycle engines are still in use, none are being manufactured for this market and heavy-duty truck engines are all four-cycle now. It would seem reasonable to delete the 4 reference on current and future API categories, but the designation has lingered. So perhaps future subcategories could be designated as CX and CX-FE, for example, without undue confusion.

For insight into an OEMs position on the new category, I contacted Shawn Whitacre, director of materials engineering at Cummins. He pointed out that the new category request is driven by three primary factors:

1) A number of hardware changes will have taken place between 2006 (CJ-4s introduction) and 2016, target date for the new category.

2) The OEMs need to meet new regulatory challenges focused on improving fuel consumption, along with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Certainly, lubricant viscosity plays a role in frictional losses in the engine, Whitacre pointed out. By allowing a range of viscometrics to take advantage of lower friction products – in engines designed to accommodate them – the OEMs believe they can capture additional fuel savings.

3) Whitacre also sees a need for specific performance improvements to CJ-4, including oxidation stability, shear stability, aeration, and compatibility with biodiesel fuel.

In addition, Whitacre noted that some of the engine tests that support current and older categories will no longer be available beyond 2015. Replacement tests are under development, and new tests in line with the stated needs are being considered. Among these is a new test for aeration performance, as well as the replacement test for Mack T12. A scuffing/adhesive wear test is being considered due to concerns related to lower viscosity lubricants. The OEMs are also looking at a variety of options to evaluate shear stability, since current tests and limits do not seem to correlate well with field experience. They are also looking at options to replace the Sequence IIIF or IIIG test for oxidation.

PC-11 is a major challenge, not so much for the changes that may be called for, but due to the very tight timeline that has been proposed. Oil marketers, additive suppliers and engine manufacturers will have to get really serious and find a way to work together smoothly and quickly. It will be a major test of the API system and should be fun to watch!

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