The California Air Resources Board (CARB) — and areas following the Golden State’s footsteps — will likely ban new internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles almost completely by 2035, but there are still plans by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to update their engine oil specifications. The reason?
“From now until the ICE ban goes into effect, there will still be a need for greater efficiency from ICE engines and longer-lasting protection,” says David Tsui, Project Manager in our Energy sector.
API, for instance, has announced the planned inclusion of ultra-low viscosity grades 0W-8 and 0W-12 into its GF-6B and API SP service categories. While OEMs have petitioned API to include used oil low-speed pre-ignition (LSPI) testing into the current API SP category (dubbed the Sequence IX test), which started development in early 2022. This will ensure that engine oils can protect engines over longer drain intervals, especially turbocharged gasoline direct injection engines (GDI), which offer greater fuel efficiency while still providing the power consumers desire.
GM also recently updated its GM dexos1 specification to Gen 3, which became official as of September 1, 2022. This new specification includes tighter limits on oxidation, turbo coking, improved sludge handling, and corrosion handling; it also sets ASH limits even lower, which reduces the additive formulator’s ability to use traditional detergents. These tighter limits will also drive formulators to rely more on antioxidants and dispersants. GM’s goal is to extend drain intervals, which will help reduce waste and improve fuel economy to reduce emissions. In addition, GM’s dexos2 HDMO specification will be updated to GM dexosD and include 0W-20 grades which will also help fuel economy in light trucks and vans.
So what do the changes mean?
“There is still plenty of work for engine oil formulators to advance their lubricants, and this would imply a greater role for additive technology and basestocks to help meet these specifications,” Tsui says. “Meeting these newer specifications will be even harder than before, as formulators will be limited on the amount of detergents they can use to boost total base number (TBN). That number has traditionally been high for long-life fluids, as the higher TBN can neutralize more acidic byproducts. This means formulators will have to increase usage of other components such as antioxidants and dispersants. However, engine oil formulation isn’t as simple as adding more because there is a careful balance of additives which compete for surface area on the engine.”
Dispersants for example, which help fight sludge formation and tend to be thick, will also be limited, as low viscosity grades such as 0W-8/12 and improved fuel economy limits will require less viscous additive technology, although this can be mitigated with higher quality base oils such as Group III+ and Group IV polyalphaolefins (PAOs). As the market transitions toward lighter viscosity engine oils like SAE 0W-20/16/12/8, the role for Group III+ and PAO basestocks will be much more pronounced than ever. It may not be feasible to blend these grades with Group III alone. Thus, formulators need to have a closer look at their available base oil options and make changes to their approach as needed, as base oil quality can also help improve engine oil performance.
These new specification changes and how they influence the additive mix information on the subject will be featured in our upcoming edition of Global Lubricant Additives: Market Analysis and Opportunities, set for publication in Q4. The study will also take a look at the budding world of electric vehicle (EV) lubricants, along supplier profiles that provide a greater view of capacities and locations, given recent supply disruptions/issues.