As the lubricants world enters a transformative period, no aspect of the industry is spared. Sustainability and e-mobility are changing the production, marketing and application of base oils, lubricants and additives. Companies worldwide must adapt to these disruptive forces lest they get left behind. In Europe, lubricant additive associations are deciding how to handle the rapidly approaching future of their industry.
ATC, a Brussels-based association representing the Petroleum Additive Manufacturers in Europe, is exploring the effects these trends will have on lubricant additives. Just two years ago, it formed a sustainability subcommittee, focusing on how its industry will face the shift toward sustainable products. Additives, like base oils, affect the sustainability of lubricants, and help original equipment manufacturers meet emissions challenges.
The ATC sustainability subcommittee has representatives from 12 of the member companies who meet about once a month. It has already produced or contributed to a number of position papers and surveyed its members to identify priority areas. They are:
- Agreeing on key elements of Scope 3 emissions—or emissions as a result of assets not owned by an organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain—to aid calculation and communication of product carbon footprint data.
- Identifying and developing a standard set of secondary data to account for key raw materials in the value chain.
- Developing position papers on topics related to the EU Chemical Strategy for Sustainability, including Essential Uses, and Safe and Sustainable by Design.
“Over many years additive developments have enabled the hardware to meet emission challenges while also being compatible with the emission aftertreatment systems that the OEMs have needed to put on,” ATC Secretary General Ian Field, said at the UEIL 2021 Virtual Congress in October. For instance, additives have helped reduce the SAPS (sulfated ash, phosphorus and sulfur) content levels in lubricants for years.
“Over many years additive developments have enabled the hardware to meet emission challenges while also being compatible with the emission aftertreatment systems that the OEMs have needed to put on.”
– Ian Field, ATC
Data show that as standards have shifted—in Europe’s case from the Euro I standards to Euro VI—there has been a significant reduction in damaging pollutants, even as mileage driven has increased steadily over time, he said. As fuel economy requirements become stricter, lubricant additives have helped make lower-viscosity engine oils, modify friction in these oils and enable engineering changes to lower friction in engines.
“For example, the ring clearance that you have in modern engines is tighter than it used to be,” Field said.
The message from Field is clear: This is a period of very rapid change, and the focus is on sustainable lubricants with many industry drivers pushing it in that direction. To prepare for this oncoming change, he said, the industry must take a holistic approach and look at not just the immediate effects of this change but the long-term effects, along with a cooperative effort across the entire supply chain.
Preparing for change also requires collaboration across associations. The ATC’s sustainability subcommittee is working with UEIL’s sustainability team to establish joint positions. Some members of the ATC’s sustainability group are also part of the UEIL’s sustainability group. “The key to success in this area is having a good system that works for everyone in the supply chain,” he said. “That’s critical.”
As these groups work on how to face the future of lubricant additives, a few crucial issues stand out.
The most important, according to Alistair Thompson, ATC vice president and regulatory affairs manager at Innospec, is establishing which chemicals are either essential or non-essential. The European Chemicals Agency and its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability aim to ban harmful chemicals in consumer products—but allow those same chemicals in formulations where they are essential.
Determining essential versus non-essential is far from a simple task, making it hard to know how chemicals are going to be classified. “At this stage, without any firm criteria defining what is meant by ‘essential use,’ it is difficult to predict the number of petroleum additive chemicals that will be impacted,” Thompson said. “We still have a way to go before it becomes clear what the final definition and criteria of essentiality will be.”
The situation becomes even more complicated when considering how chemicals mix with each other. How do you decide what is essential and non-essential with a mixture of chemicals? “That has a clear implication for both additives packages, which themselves are mixtures, but also what happens when you mix lubes together,” Field said. He added that ATC is working with ATIEL on this issue.
“Our key concern is that we could see a further shift toward a simple hazard-based approach in managing chemicals—described as the ‘generic approach to risk management’ in the CSS—which would not be scientifically sound nor would it comply with the proportionality principle enshrined in EU law,” Thompson said.
“This could lead to a definition of essentiality that is poorly defined and uses overly simplistic criteria applied to broad chemical groupings based on hazard classification,” he continued. “Such a criteria could lead to significant numbers of chemicals used within our industry being defined as non-essential that may otherwise be beneficial to society and whose risks are well managed.”
The ATC thinks any assessment of essentiality should be considered only as a last step when the risk of using a chemical cannot be managed. Establishing what constitutes an essential versus non-essential chemical should be complex, subjective and likely to vary over time, taking into account the wider socio-economic and environmental benefits of using these chemicals. These discussions should not be rushed.
This relates to another concept introduced by the European Chemical Industry: Safe and Sustainable by Design, or SSbD. It is designed to foster innovation within the European chemical industry, with the European Union aiming to define the criteria for which chemicals are safe and sustainable in 2022. The European Chemical Association will contribute to the development of criteria for chemicals.
“As an industry we clearly support the concept behind SSbD,” said Jacquie Berryman, ATC president and industry liaison adviser at Infineum. “It’s obviously what we should be doing. But we do remain very concerned about how this will be defined. The criteria should be pragmatic from the short to the longer term.”
The association is working on position papers regarding both essential uses and SSbD, Berryman told Lubes’n’Greases.
Another vital issue lies in e-mobility. The internal combustion engine remains the top dog of powertrains, but OEMs will likely give it less priority as time goes on. That does not mean the internal combustion engine is going away right now, just that additive companies will soon have to adapt.
“We anticipate the ICE will remain a key powertrain for many years,” Berryman said. “In the short and medium term the challenges include maintaining investment in the current technologies and processes when resources are required for innovating to meet future demands, and longer term our members will be focusing on developing new technologies for the requirements of EV fluids, including electrical conductivity, thermal management and battery additives.”
“Our members will be focusing on developing new technologies for the requirements of EV fluids, including electrical conductivity, thermal management and battery additives.”
– Jacquie Berryman, ATC
Other effects include perhaps less test development for current lubricants. “There’s a knock-on effect in terms of the priority given to new specs being developed for ICE lubricants and a lower priority for new test development,” Field said. “We’re starting to see this already with new tests” for the Coordinating European Council to look at.
As far as API and ACEA specifications go, Field said the industry—from a marketing point of view and a lubricant technology point of view—has come to expect updates at regular intervals. If that happens less regularly, what impact will that have on lubricant and lubricant additive marketers? Could it lead to less innovation in lube additive development?
“As we move toward specialization we’re going to see lower volumes of lube, but those lubes are going to be more specialized and higher value,” Field said. “But what it also means is that the aftermarket is going to be much more limited as we move to fill-for-life and this will have an impact, a very significant impact, on the lube market. The initial fill market will still be there, but the aftermarket will decline.”
“As we move toward specialization we’re going to see lower volumes of lube, but those lubes are going to be more specialized and higher value.”
– Ian Field, ATC
A potential wildcard is the looming Euro VII standards. Field presented three possible outcomes: a narrow revision that simplifies the current complex standards, a wider revision that adds on to that along with stricter limits, and a comprehensive revision that also adds real-world emissions monitoring. The first, Field said, would decrease compliance costs, while the latter two would increase these costs and have an impact on powertrain platform choices.
At any rate, the current Euro VI standards have been criticized for being too complex. They have separate frameworks for light- and heavy-duty vehicles, different enforcement dates, different emissions tests and different standards based on different fuels and vehicle technologies.
“In addition, the standards are seen as outdated, having been adopted nearly a decade ago,” Field said. “They also lack real-world measurements.
“The European Commission is currently assessing feedback from business associations, companies, non-government organizations and others,” Field continued. “Overall, the feedback is supportive of efforts to reduce emissions; however, the response to the three different scenarios has been much more mixed. With discussions still underway, it is perhaps too early to judge which is the most likely outcome.”
A formal proposal is expected to come in 2025 at the earliest. “Clearly,” Field said, “which of these strategies is adopted will have a big impact on the path that OEMs will take in the development of future ICE-based powertrains.”
So is the industry ready for the future of additives?
Berryman is optimistic as ATC continues to work on these issues. “I think that the commitment of ATC members—as evidenced by the support for the ATC sustainability subcommittee and the discussions currently underway within other industry organizations like CEC on expanding the scope to cover test development for EV fluids—demonstrates that the petroleum additive sector is ready for this shift,” she said. “Bringing the collaboration experiences and the technical expertise of ATC membership and member companies to these two key trends will help our industry to meet these challenges.”
Will Beverina is assistant editor for Lubes’n’Greases. Contact him at Will@LubesnGreases.com