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New Ideas for Novel Base Stocks


New Ideas for Novel Base Stocks

Day in and day out, ships, rail cars and tank trucks deliver bulk base stocks to lubricant blenders. Formulators rely on a narrow selection of these oils and modify them with a plethora of chemical additives to meet lubricant performance specifications.

But trending priorities for sustainability, nontoxicity, biodegradability and vehicle fuel economy are altering demands for lubricants and their components-including base stocks. In response, entrepreneurs are developing and commercializing new synthetic base oils from biobased feedstocks for use in next-generation automotive engine oils and environmentally acceptable lubricants.

Yeast Rises

Just shy of seven years old, Novvi LLC is producing cutting-edge base stocks with the help of much older partners: yeast. Scientists have found fossils of yeast dating to 440 million years ago-the oldest known evidence of land-dwelling organisms.

Certain species of yeast consume carbohydrates and produce ethanol or carbon dioxide, essential to making beverages and breads. Now, scientists have developed yeast that convert sugars to a new substance that can be used for making base oil.

The Emeryville, California-based company is creating base oil using farnesene (C15H24), a molecule with an unsaturated C12 backbone and short methyl group branches. Farnesene is the product of industrial fermentation of sugar cane by genetically modified yeast, a process developed by Amyris, Inc. Novvi calls its oils Group III+, a marketing term that typically refers to base stocks meeting API Group III standards for content such as sulfur and saturates, but with a higher than usual viscosity index.

The company was created as a joint venture of Amyris and Brazilian sugar company Cosan S.A. Equity owners include American Refining Group, Chevron Products Co. and most recently German wax and white oils maker Hansen & Rosenthal Group. Amyris commercializes biological techniques to make hydrocarbons from agricultural materials, and Cosan is a major supplier of sugar cane, bioethanol and energy. ARG, Chevron and H&R provide targeted market access for the base oil.

Novvi has shipped truckload quantities of base oils to customers on five continents for the last three years, reported Paula Vettel, technical director for formulations and regulatory. The oils are manufactured at a chemical plant in Houston, with 250 daily barrels of capacity. The company declined to discuss pricing for its base oils.

She explained the manufacturing process: NovaSpec base oil is produced by oligomerization of farnesene and linear alpha olefins to make base oil, using a well-known [polyalphaolefin] process. The base oil is then hydrogenated completely and distilled to produce the various viscosity grades.

At the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers meeting last spring, Jeffrey M. Guevremont, principal scientist at American Refining Group, discussed studies comparing NovaSpec oil with base stocks in API Groups I to IV. Oils were heated to 121 degrees Celsius for 350 hours, similar to ASTM D2893 gear oil oxidation test conditions. Oxidation and thickening for Novvis oil and PAO were significantly less than Group I, II and III mineral oils.

Likewise, gas chromatography data for both the farnesene based fluid and PAO were narrower than Group III, indicating less volatility.

In another study, ISO viscosity grade 100 marine gear oils were formulated with the companys EL34 oil, as well as Group I-IV base stocks, with a premium industrial gear oil additive package. Low-temperature pumpability and rheology data for EL34 and PAO gear oils were found to be similar, and superior to the mineral oils between -15 and -35 C.

Friction was measured using a Mini-traction Machine with test conditions to promote formation of a protective tribofilm by antiwear additives. At the start of the hour-long test, friction was similar for EL34, Group I and Group II gear oils, and lower for Groups III and IV. As the test went on, the friction increased slightly for EL34 and PAO but more sharply for Group I, II and III.Lower friction suggests energy efficiency savings in the field, Guevremont pointed out.

Increases in friction can be associated with tribofilm growth or wear, he continued. The wear scar for EL34 (63.7 nanometers) was smaller than Groups I-IV (72.6, 71.4, 79.9 and 75.2 nm). These results suggest that the EL34 formulation lets the antiwear additives protect the surface. Friction is not necessarily tied to wear, so this is not a discrepancy.

Guevremont described the sugar-derived oils as renewable, biodegradable, low-toxicity alternatives to Group III mineral oils and PAOs for marine, offshore, mining and pipeline applications needing Vessel General Permit-compliant lubricants.

Vettel later described a severe service test of SAE 0W-20 passenger car motor oils, formulated with the companys base stocks, conducted in Las Vegas. Testing in Las Vegas taxis is one of the most severe field test environments used by major additive companies and marketers. Typical conditions are stop-and-go driving at an average of 13 miles per hour during extreme heat in the summer and much cooler temperatures in the winter.

The NovaSpec formulation outperformed a premium PCMO formulated with a leading Group III base oil in terms of low-temperature viscosity retention measured by [Mini-rotary Viscometer] at the 10,000 mile drain intervals. This is not surprising, because laboratory test results at high and low temperatures for Novvi base oil were better than conventional Group III and similar to Group IV PAO oils, she concluded.


Michael Tkautz, business development manager for Advonex International Corp., based in Brockville, Ontario, talked with LubesnGreases about the coincidence that led to the development of a method for making a new base stock and a new company.

Advonex International was founded in 2012 to exploit the technology concepts envisioned by its founders, Chad Joshi and Glenn Horner, while both were working in Boston. The two engineers were researching ways to make diesel from vegetable oils. They developed an electrochemical method to make the diesel, said Tkautz, and discovered that they could produce a wider range of hydrocarbons with potential for other commercial and industrial applications.

The following year, Joshi and Horner began refining their invention with support from the Canadian National Research Council, a grant from GreenCentre Canadas Commercialization Fund, and a major oil company, continued Tkautz. They hired scientists and continued to build expertise in the areas of electrolysis and hydrofinishing to convert plant oils and animal fats into long-chain hydrocarbons for high-value applications. Advonex is now building a pilot-scale facility at its Brockville site to produce base stock and other products.

According to Tkautz, there are three major steps in the patented process to make Entrada-base, as Advonex has branded its material. First, plant-based oils or animal fats are hydrolyzed, or reacted with water, to produce fatty acids. Second, electrolysis-an applied electric current-is used to remove oxygen atoms from the fatty acids and react them to form longer hydrocarbon chains. The third step is hydrofinishing to remove impurities and produce saturated branched hydrocarbons for lubricant base stock.

The resulting fluid consists of narrow-distribution C26 to C34 (chains of 26 to 34 carbon atoms) alkanes derived from a variety of seed oils.

Tkautz pointed out, Entrada-base oil chemistry is more akin to Group III than Group IV PAOs. So lubricant formulators can use a wider range of conventional additive packages with Entrada-base than PAOs. The base fluid has been blended with standard pour point depressants without any separation, he stated, and existing additive packages can be used.

By altering the feedstocks, Advonex can control the Noack volatility and viscosity index of our base stock, Tkautz continued. The company has produced versions of its base oil with V.I. between 139 and 223.

He also noted that the oils will be priced at a premium to Group III base oil but at a discount to Group IV base oil. Weve taken into account the higher performance characteristics of Entrada-base over Group III stocks, which justifies the premium positioning.

Tkautz highlighted the companys ongoing work with Valvoline to develop high-performance motor oil. A finished SAE 5W-30 oil prepared with Advonexs base stock demonstrated superior qualities when compared to a motor oil formulated with Group III oil, he said. In Noack volatility tests, which measure evaporation at high temperatures, the weight losses were 4.5 percent for the Entrada lubricant versus 12.5 percent for the Group III formulations. Further, the coefficient of friction was 30 percent lower with the biobased stock (0.026 versus 0.038 for a comparable grade of petroleum motor oil).


Bruce Marley, senior vice president, sales and marketing with Biosynthetic Technologies Inc., spoke with LubesnGreases about the companys plans for commercial production of estolide base stocks. According to Marley, estolides are synthetic compounds that contain two or more fatty acids bonded together through a patented catalytic reaction process.

BT applies patented process technology that can tailor the chemistry of molecules to provide performance properties for various applications, explained Marley. For example, its current estolide oils demonstrate advantages that include viscosity index and oxidative and hydrolytic stability relative to other base stocks.

According to Marley, the start-up is in the late-stage planning process to build a 30,000 metric ton/year manufacturing plant at a petrochemical complex in Texas City, Texas. Primary investors include BP, Evonik, Monsanto and Malaysian plantation owner Sime Darby. To support product development in the meantime, BT operates a fully integrated demonstration plant on a site belonging to chemical company Albemarle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In January 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the Irvine, California-based companys Phase 1 application for a loan guarantee under its Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (the 9003 program). This past December, BT received a conditional commitment for a $132 million loan guarantee. Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. is the lender of record for the USDA guaranteed loan.

Marley anticipates breaking ground for the full-scale commercial manufacturing facility in 2018 and commencing operations by mid-2020. Our market entry strategy is to price our productscompetitively against Group IV and Group V base oils, he commented.

The Agricultural Research Service of the USDA was instrumental in early work from 2000 to 2007 to develop technology to synthesize estolides from canola oil. BT now holds the license for that technology, as well as over 60 patents and 83 pending patents.

The company has also received ILSAC GF-5 and API SN-Resource Conserving certification for SAE 5W-20 and 5W-30 passenger car motor oils formulated with additives from Infineum International. The API SN standard includes stricter limits on piston deposits and sludge formation. The Resource Conserving designation indicates fuel saving and emission control properties. Marley stated the API-licensed formulations are available for private label blending.

Mary Moon, Ph.D., is a professional chemist, technical writer and editor. She has hands-on R&D and management experience formulating, testing and manufacturing lubricating oils and greases. She is skilled in industrial applications of tribology, electrochemistry and spectroscopy. Contact her at or (267) 567-7234.

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