Shell Rotella: The future of engine oil is all about fuel economy

By Jami Jones, managing editor

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Anyone with a pulse in the trucking industry knows that oil is not optional. Ask anyone why, and they’ll talk about protecting the engine. Of course, oil protects the engine. But with the ever tightening regulations on truck and engine builders, the next generation of oil will also have to play a bigger role in increasing fuel mileage.

The topic of the next-generation engine oil dominated the Shell Global Media Event on June 9-11 in San Antonio, Texas. Trade media from around the world were briefed on the next generation of oil, called PC-11 for proposed category 11, during the development phase.

The new oil was requested by engine makers when the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out its greenhouse gas regulation for 2017, targeting a reduction in greenhouse gases and forcing an improvement in heavy-duty truck fuel economy. Development of the new oil category started in 2011.

More now than ever is asked of engine oil beyond protecting the engine, according to Dr. Jason Brown, Shell global technology manager for heavy-duty engine oil. Reduced emissions, extended drain intervals, extended equipment life, increased power output and the ever-important reduced fuel consumption.

The demands on the oil have created new opportunities for the new oil in development, according to Brown.

The oil can maintain diesel particulate filter performance by creating lower ash level, extend the catalyst life by driving sulphur and phosphorus levels down, extend service intervals and improve fuel economy with lower viscosity oils.

Dan Arcy, Shell Global OEM technical manager and industry trade association liaison, said even 1 percent better fuel economy will save the industry millions while reducing carbon dioxide output.

That same 1 percent industry-wide improvement would reduce U.S. fuel consumption by 1 million gallons per day or in the neighborhood of

$3 million per day.

The new oil, PC-11, is in the development phase, which is a three- to five-year process. It will move into implementation in late 2016.

Arcy is leading the category development team and says that the new oil will be the first in the history of engine oils to be broken into two subcategories. The demands on the oil by newer engines will require a different oil than older engines require. That means there will actually be two new oils rolled out in the new category. One category, called CK-4, will be designed to be backward compatible – meaning it can be used in older engines. The second category, FA-4, will not be as backward compatible – meaning it will only work with certain engine model years. What years has yet to be decided.

The testing of new engine oil categories is essential. Shell has partnered with the Southwest Regional Institute for the testing.

Martin Thompson, research engineer, with Southwest Regional Institute, puts oils through the paces. The test engines run long, hard and constantly. The job: to find the test oil’s breaking point.

Every aspect of the engine’s performance is constantly monitored. Thompson and other researchers go home at night, but the engines keep churning away for days on end. During the day staff evaluates the endless flow of data the engines and test oils produce over the weeks of constant running.

After that, the engines are torn down and inspected for wear and tear. Oils are evaluated on their ability to prevent oxidation, air entrainment, shear stability, etc.

Currently, Shell has run 22 million miles of testing on PC-11B or FA-4 test oil.

Shell leadership is confident that as the oil category specifications are settled on, they will have an oil that delivers all that’s being asked of the new generation of motor oil. LL