Shell Lubricants gives media glimpse into the future of oil

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 2/10/2012

PARK CITY, UT – Trucks are going to be changing once again thanks to the greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards. While most don’t realize it, that has put component manufacturers and suppliers like Shell Lubricants on notice: It’s time to think ahead and rise to yet another challenge.

That’s exactly what Shell is doing. The demands on your engine oil will change with the 2014 trucks and engines. Original equipment manufacturers will be forced into a fuel mileage game of limbo-lower-now that has put the pressure on every business that contributes to the finished trucks and its performance.

And it’s not the first time. In fact, 10 years ago, the first rounds of reduced emissions standards were bearing down on the trucking industry. The demands on oil increased dramatically with higher underhood temperatures and expanded soot handling needs.

As each emission standard rolled out, the oil industry responded with a corresponding new oil standard. The one exception was the 2010 emission standard.

“We did such a good job on CJ-4 that we didn’t have to change it again,” Dan Arcy, OEM technical manager with Shell Lubricants told the media at a special event held Feb. 9 in Park City, UT.

That won’t be the case with the Environmental Protection Agency-National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s fuel economy standards beginning in 2014.

Until now, new engine oil classifications always worked in older engines. They were “backward compatible.” That may not be the case this time.

“There may come a point where we draw a line in the sand and say these oils are for these model years and this oil is for these model years,” Arcy said.

Because the upcoming fuel mileage standards are so stringent, OEMs are looking for every last gain in fuel economy they can get. For motor oil that can mean going even “thinner.” The viscosity of oil has crept downward over the past several years, while still managing high engine heat and still protecting the engine with extended drain intervals.

Arcy said that may very well prompt the industry to develop a new oil category with two different oils. One could be specially designed to improve fuel economy. Those changes may be so drastic that the new oils meeting the new standard, dubbed PC-11 short for proposed category 11, might not perform properly in pre-2014 engines.

Now engine oils will have to get even thinner – or have lower viscosity – to improve fuel mileage, yet still improve on their ability to protect the engine and keep from breaking down because of engine heat. The term 0W – or zero weight – is even being tossed around.

The oil industry through API has just gotten started on developing the new standard, holding the first work group meeting in February. The work groups are made up of industry experts, like Arcy, who work together with OEMs to find that performance sweet spot for the new oil category.

However, beyond the big picture of what’s being expected, details are slim.

“A year from now we’ll have a lot more information,” Arcy said.

For the time being, Shell is prepared to build on the fuel mileage increases that the Rotella T5 and T6 oils introduced two years ago have given drivers, with the T5 boasting a 1.6 percent fuel mileage gain, for example.

“It takes four years to develop a new standard and have it ready for market,” Arcy said.

With just less than twoyears until the 2014 deadline, that statement raised eyebrows in the press pool.

“It can be done,” Arcy said.

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