Shell Rotella putting next generation of oil through the paces

By Jami Jones, managing editor

The next round of emission standards on heavy-duty trucks isn’t just affecting engine and truck makers. It has sent the oil companies back to the labs to formulate a new category of oil to meet the tougher demands right around the corner.

Dan Arcy, global OEM technical manager and industry trade association liaison for Shell Global Solutions, told the media attending a recent engine teardown event at Clarke Power Generation Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., that it has been nearly 10 years since a new category of engine oils needed to be developed.

The category standards and testing are developed by the Diesel Oil Advisory Committee under the API Lubrication Group. Industry stakeholders, including oil companies, truck makers, engine makers, etc., make up the advisory committee.

The committee establishes the changes to everything from testing to expectations in oil performance that will be needed and moves forward with developing the new standards. This process eventually results in a new oil formulation hitting the shelves.

It takes approximately four years to develop an oil to meet the new category standards. 

The new category of oil, which has not been assigned an SAE standard yet but is dubbed PC-11 at this point, is needed because of the lower emissions standards that will increase engine heat and the ever-present need for better fuel economy.

While the new category is in development, Shell Rotella has been working hard testing its current oil platform with modifications to the viscosity – taking it even lower than 10W-30.

While Arcy said there is no testing for viscosity and its effect on fuel economy, it’s a fact that the lower viscosity oils provide better fuel economy.

The new oil formulation has made it out of the lab and onto the road in field tests.

Howard Hill with Shell Rotella oversees engine teardowns that measure the performance of the new oil formulation under development.

Shell tears down engines that are running the oils currently available on the market and compares them to engines that are running the prototype to make sure the prototype is performing up to Shell Rotella standards. All of the engines are in actual use in trucks on the road.

During the event, three Detroit DD15 engines with roughly half a million miles were torn down and components photographed, measured and inspected. The engines ran 10W-40, 10W-30 and the new lower viscosity prototype 10W-30 Rotella oil.

Hill showed the media that the component wear from the three different trucks was essentially identical – showing the same engine protection being delivered from all three of the different weights of Shell Rotella oils.

Beyond the inspection of the engine components, oil analysis was conducted on all three trucks to go along with data collected at oil changes and intervals between changes. The oil analysis shows, again, no difference in the amount of protection provided by the three different weight oils.

Testing in the lab is being conducted, additionally, on the heat demands that will be placed on the new oils. The new formulation that Shell Rotella is in the process of developing is performing well in those lab tests.

Much is still to be decided about the new category of oils. It will likely be a split category with higher and lower viscosity blends. Engine makers will decide whether they want to put the new oil in older engines too – making it backward compatible – or stick with just using it in 2016 and newer engines.

The goal is to have the new category of oil available to market by April 2016, but it appears that at this point it will likely be closer to September 2016, according to Arcy. LL