Tractors, Cars and Engines: Oronite Gets Focused for the Future


In early May, Chevron Oronite celebrated the 100th anniversary of its brand with a gathering at its Oak Point plant in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, outside New Orleans. The event was more than just a walk down memory lane, as the company highlighted three areas that it considers critical to future additive development: passenger car engine oils, tractor hydraulics and natural gas engine oils.

Oronites roots date back to the early days of Chevron, when it was known as Standard Oil of California, one of the companies that formed as a result of the breakup of Standard Oil, related Oronite President Des King. The Oronite name has been used to label petroleum based additive products since 1917.

You might wonder where the name Oronite came from, King observed. Nobody knows for certain, but there are two theories according to our early records.

One theory is that the name combines the Spanish translation of oro, meaning gold, with nite, or darkness, which together are loosely interpreted as black gold, a well-known term for petroleum. That certainly makes sense, given the connection to Standard Oil, he mused.

The second theory was that Oronite was the name of a jet-black race horse owned by a Standard Oil executive, who decided it would also be a good name for a company trademark.

King related that the companys pioneering technology, developed in the 1930s, was detergent additives for diesel engines. This led to another interesting chapter in our history, he said, the establishment of our manufacturing plant in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, and the early beginnings of our marine product line.

Oronites additive technology was used in the United States submarine fleet because it helped extend the range and effectiveness of the fleets diesel engines. Almost immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy asked Standard Oil to establish a centrally located additive supply facility away from the West Coast due to the potential threat of an attack that could disrupt supplies to the Pacific and Atlantic fleets.

Standards board took only 30 minutes to agree, King remarked, and the plant shipped the first tank car of diesel engine additives just two years and three months after the attack. Due to the scarcity of steel, Oak Point was constructed from equipment bought, dismantled and transported from an obsolete refinery in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Today, Oak Point occupies a 100-acre site and produces a wide variety of components, blending them into finished additive packages for both lubricants and fuels. For example, the plant produces products that meet the new API CK-4/FA-4 heavy-duty diesel engine oil classifications and is preparing to make products that meet the upcoming ILSAC GF-6 passenger car engine oil specification. The plant also makes additive packages used in marine, railroad, small engine, tractor hydraulics and natural gas engine product lines.

Oak Point works closely with Oronites research and development teams in Richmond, California, and Gonfreville, France, to develop new products. The facility houses a testing lab used for quality control-to test raw material samples, products in various states of manufacturing and finished products ready to be shipped.

The site produces many of its own utilities, including power and steam via cogeneration gas turbines, and it handles both gas and water treatment. Its wharf allows marine shipments from the Mississippi River and the Intracoastal Waterway, as well as international shipping via the Gulf of Mexico. Truck and rail supplement both shipping and receiving.

While the company declined to disclose the plants output, it reported that Oak Point is the second largest additives plant in the world and Oronites anchor plant in the Americas.

Today, Oronite is focused on lubricant and fuel additives that meet increasingly strict specifications required by original equipment manufacturers and governing bodies around the world, said King. And we are also working hard to prepare for the ones that are coming next.

Upgrading Tractor Fluids

Steve Best, product line manager, industrial engine oils & specialties, said that Oronite expects the global agricultural machinery manufacturing industry to grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 8 percent between 2016 and 2022. Advanced technology has greatly increased the productivity and efficiency of todays farmers, he said.

While the sale of tractors in developed countries declined 15 to 20 percent in 2016, the 2017 outlook shows some stabilization, Best said. In the U.S. and Canada, farmers 2017 income will continue to be squeezed, and equipment sales may be reaching their cyclical bottom. The market in the European Union showed a similar decline in 2016, dropping by about 7 percent. But the outlook for 2017 looks stable, he explained.

Eastern Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, is enjoying strong growth in the agricultural equipment market. Likewise, demand is improving in Brazil and Argentina. Finally, Best noted, sales in Asia are expected to be flat in the near term, but are projected to show strong growth over the next 5 years.

Best then outlined the market positions of the major agricultural machinery manufacturers. As might be expected, John Deeres sales are concentrated in North America and Europe. CNH Industrial-a combination of Case, New Holland, International Harvester and Steyr-has the bulk of its sales in North America and Europe. Agcos sales are predominantly in Europe, North America and South America.

Best explained that agricultural innovation is driving the demand for technologically more advanced farming equipment. Drivetrains are fast becoming more complex and more sophisticated, with an increasing number of transmission gear ratios. As in the automotive sector, new emission standards require designers to do a better job of managing space onboard while adding emissions components.

Formulating tractor hydraulic fluids poses some unique challenges. Modern equipment operates from a common sump, and the lubricant must meet a variety of sometimes conflicting needs.

Hydraulic pumps (vane, piston, gear) require noncorrosive fluids that maintain their viscosity over the entire drain interval. Gears (spur, planetary, spiral-bevel) require wear protection at low speeds and high loads. Powershift transmissions need fluids with balanced dynamic and static friction properties. Wet brakes require fluids that control noise and provide balanced dynamic and static friction.

There are no industry-wide standards for tractor hydraulic fluids, Best related, and there have been no major new OEM specifications or spec changes in recent years. He noted that the industry is uncertain as to how and when John Deere will change its J20 specification, although the wear and oxidation tests have been replaced. Gima, a joint venture between Agco and Claas, is expected to introduce a specification in the next two to three years to meet the needs of its new transmission design, which will require high and stable friction.

ZF, which supplies transmissions and axles to multiple OEMs, will update its TE-ML 05F specification due to hardware evolution. It will include a wet differential test to measure noise, vibration and harshness.

From GF-5 to GF-6

Gerald Shaw, regional product line manager – automotive engine oils, explained that formulation for next-generation categories is a mixture of science and art that requires commitment, creativity, precision and experience. Simultaneously meeting requirements that sometimes conflict is a formidable challenge, he said. Additive formulation technology needs to prevent oil breakdown, reduce friction and provide wide vehicle application without sacrificing wear protection and durability.

A combination of new technologies is placing fresh demands on engine oils. Turbocharged, downsized, direct-injection engines are rapidly being introduced in many markets, Shaw said. As a result, low speed pre-ignition, turbocharger deposits and timing chain wear have become critical issues for auto manufacturers. ILSAC GF-6 is being developed to address these issues, and General Motors has updated its Dexos1 specification for the same reasons.

Shaw reviewed what formulators should expect with ILSAC GF-6, which will have two versions. GF-6A will encompass SAE 0W-20, 0W-30, 5W-20, 5W-30 and 10W-30 viscosity grades; GF-6B will cover SAE 0W-16 and lower. He noted that future grades below 0W-16 will require additional review by the American Petroleum Institutes Auto-Oil Advisory Panel.

The net result of these upgrades is to make the PCMO formulating puzzle more challenging. Innovative technology solutions will be needed to meet future performance needs that will be more rigorous, Shaw said.

Gas Engine Oils Growing

According to John Palazzotto, staff research engineer, industrial engine oils & specialties, global gas demand is expected to grow nearly 45 percent between 2015 and 2040 in all major sectors, led by electricity generation. North America is expected to become a natural gas exporter, and demand in Asia-Pacific will likely double by 2040, he said. Unconventional gas will account for about one-third of gas production.

Shale and tight oil gas production in North America is growing and could comprise 66 percent of total U.S. production by 2040. Tight oil is light crude oil contained in petroleum-bearing formations of low permeability, often shale or tight sandstone. Palazzotto said, There will be a slight drop in tight gas through the late 2020s, and coalbed methane will continue to decline through 2040.

Palazzotto noted that the natural gas engine oil market is forecast by Kline and Co. to grow from 525,000 metric tons in 2016 to 610,000 tons by 2025. Future engine designs will require improved lubricant performance to provide longer drain intervals, compliance with stricter emissions regulations, ability to handle landfill gases and biogas, and compatibility with emission system catalysts.

He explained that natural gas (consisting mostly of methane) burns very hot and has no heavy ends. It typically contains no sulfur; therefore, the engine oil requires less total base number. Natural gas also is dry, so ash in the oil provides intake and exhaust valve lubricity, helping control valve recession. However, ash deposits can cause spark plug fouling. Landfill and sewage gas, on the other hand, require special lubricants to manage contaminants.

Natural gas engines come in a wide variety of types, and they operate at higher temperatures and loads, with variable duty cycles, Palazzotto reported. As a result, they place higher stress on the lubricant. And because natural gas engines are often located in remote areas and operate under harsh conditions, lubricant durability is critical.

Qualifying oils for natural gas engines is time-consuming because there are no industry oil specifications; therefore, oils must demonstrate performance in field testing. Because OEM approval processes vary widely, relationships with OEMs are critical.