The lubricant additives market has traditionally been slow to embrace major changes and shift to new chemistry, as traditional chemistries have served the industry well for many decades, and OEMs tend to be more comfortable with tried-and true-components such as ZDDP antiwear additive. However, with the ever-increasing push toward greater fuel economy, OEMs are being driven toward new technology and metallurgy for their drivetrains along with continuing to lower the engine oil viscosity requirements. These shifts, along with the push for longer lubricant life, may be pushing traditional chemistries to their performance limit, where adding more simply isn’t good enough or may be chemically limited to protect exhaust after treatment devices.
This could drive a shift toward new additive technology such as ashless antiwear components, novel friction modifiers, or low viscosity dispersants to meet the needs of the vehicles of tomorrow. On top of this, the government push toward electric vehicles (EVs) will also change the lubricant additives market.
Fuel economy has been a major driving force in lubricant additive technology, and now, with ever-extending drain intervals, fuel economy retention will be driving additive selection and lubricant formulations. The used engine oil environment is drastically different than fresh engine oil, as components have oxidized or have been spent and become degraded. The engine oil is also full of suspended contaminants such as fuel, water, acids, soot, and sludge which affect the fluid characteristics. This provides a much greater challenge for additive companies to optimize used oil fuel economy, especially in an engine oil environment where combustion takes place and could drive the friction modifier chemistry of our next generation of lubricants.
OEMs are continuing to squeeze every last percentage of fuel economy out of their drivetrain, resulting in a lot of innovation. FCA has new aluminum alloys that withstand temperatures almost 200°F higher to drive thermal efficiency in its engines. Nissan has hydrogen-free diamond-like carbon (DLC) coatings which pair with specialized lubricant additives that allow for a thin, low friction film. Mazda has commercialized its spark controlled compression ignition (SPCCI) engine, designed to mimic diesel fuel economy with gasoline. Each OEM has seemingly gone its own route in pursuit of fuel economy, making for a ripe environment for lubricant additive companies to work with the OEMs to develop their new engines and transmission for the vehicle of tomorrow.
Low viscosity engine oils have been a longstanding lever OEMs have used to extract fuel economy gains. Going from 10W-30s to 5W-20s and now 0W-16 has made its way into the mainstream engine oil market and was approved for ILSAC GF-5 Plus and GF-6B. As the automakers continue to drive the use of ultra-low viscosity engine oils such as 0W-12 and 0W-8, the engines will start to encounter more boundary layer type friction where surface asperities are more likely to come in contact. This was witnessed in the development of the new fuel economy test for GF-6, where the Sequence VIE engine was having difficulty showing fuel economy improvements from a 0W-16 candidate oil over the reference oil at 115°C oil temperature. Only by lowering the temperature 15°C and pushing the lubricant back up the viscosity curve were they able to show differentiation. Engines designed to run more boundary layer type lubrication regimes could drive friction modifier and antiwear additive selection that is better designed for this type of lubrication.
Though OEMs are innovating on the internal combustion engine (ICE) side, they are also investing in battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs and PHEVs). While BEVs may not take an engine oil, they still require other lubricants such as greases, transmission or gear oil, and coolants to function. However, the removal of the ICE from the vehicle has brought about a new, unique problem. Without the typical noise of the combustion engine and exhaust, electric vehicles are much quieter, leading the occupants to hear more of the vehicle sounds from sources such as wind, tire hum, gearbox or bearing whine, and axle clicking. Lubricants in BEVs can be surrounded by inductive currents and high amperage wires where the lubricant may need to either insulate or conduct that current depending on the application. BEVs have seen field issues such as bearing failures from electrically induced wear. Those bearings have not worn down severely enough to compromise function but still require a warrantied repair for the OEM, as the noise becomes audibly concerning to the vehicle owners. These types of failures have typically required the OEM to replace the entire electrical drive unit (inverter, motor, and gearbox), as diagnosing and isolating the source of a noise can be very time-consuming.
The traditionally slow-to-transition lubricant additives market may be in for some faster-paced shifts as the industry grapples with emissions requirements, new ICE technology, and the shift toward EVs. This is likely to help bring forward novel chemistries in the lubricant additives market.
Insights from the Global Lubricant Additives: Market Analysis and Opportunities report will be discussed in an upcoming webinar that will be held on Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at 9:30 AM EDT. Please click here to register.