Lubricants Industry to Power on Technical Partnership with OEMs [Jan 2012]

Lubricants have important contribution in improving fuel efficiency in terms of auto-production and enhancing performance of engines. Shell’s Vice-President Marketing (Commercial Fuels and Lubricants) Colin Abraham believes that the greatest efficiency gains will be made where engines and lubricants are developed in collaboration with OEMs
Global lubricant demand is forecast to reach 40.5 million metric tons in 2012. What will be Shell’s capacity by then? And what is your expansion plan to meet the increasing demand?To meet the future demand, we need a variety of energy sources, and this is something Shell has been preparing for over many years. Earlier this year, the first cargo of gas-to-liquid (GTL) products was shipped from our new Shell Pearl plant in Qatar. The result of a multi-billion dollar investment, at full capacity Pearl will provide 30 per cent of the world’s Group III base oils needed in the production of high quality premium lubricants. This makes Shell the only oil major able to meet all of its own Group III base oil needs. We will supply as a priority to our key customers, and have the infrastructure and processes in place to do this. After we have met our own Group III requirements, we will be in a position to supply this base oil to others in the market. In short, Shell is extremely well-placed to meet demand in 2012 and beyond.
Last year Shell topped the list of the world’s leading lubricants suppliers for the fifth year running, according to a recent research into the global lubricants market by Kline & Company. The research report reveals that Shell has more than 13 per cent of the market by volume in 2010 and a 2 per cent lead over its nearest competitor.
Tell us about the significance of Indian market for Shell’s global business.India is a key market for Shell and we have had a presence here for about 80 years. Shell Lubricants employs around 400 people countrywide and our investment in India over the past few years has been significant, reflecting the country’s importance to our global business. Shell India has been manufacturing the lubricants in its state-of-the-art oil blending plant at Taloja since 1997. Alongside this, we have a Customer Service Centre in Chennai, as well as our newly opened Shell Technology Centre in Bangalore (STCB).
The STCB is one of three global technology hubs; we have similar operations in both Houston and Amsterdam. The STBC is situated in Bangalore due to its proximity to the key science and technology talent that resides in the region. The operation drives niche areas of technical work in fields such as coal bed methane, bitumen R&D and technical services, carbon capture and sequestration as well as subsurface modeling. Overall, the function of the STCB is to provide cutting-edge downstream research and development, as well as working with our latest upstream technologies and processes.
Would you like to brief us about the importance of lubricants to the auto-production process? Specifying the correct lubricant or grease is critical to ensure as it provides the necessary lubricant qualities required by auto-production equipment. Shell develops lubricant and grease products that are designed to provide the optimal level of equipment protection. Lubricants are the vital component in the auto-production process and selecting the correct lubricant for the job can help save operators costly downtime through increased protection and reduced drain intervals.
Original equipment manufacturers are also looking for ways to reduce the fuel consumption of their engines. Lubricants have an important contribution in improving fuel efficiency. They are in contact with and critical to the effective operation and longevity of almost all engine parts. Lubricant viscosity is linked to engine friction and lowering it is a reliable means of improving fuel economy, provided that the integrity of the engine’s components is not compromised.
In addition, Shell has developed a variety of services that are designed to meet the needs of our customers in this sector. A service such as Shell LubeAdvisor offers technical support that can help automotive manufacturing OEMs identify the best lubricant for their production lines.
Do you recommend that the automotive OEMs should work in partnership more with oil companies? We are strong believers in the power of technical partnership. Our customers are asking for ever more fuel efficiency, whether in auto-production or to improve the performance of the products they manufacture. We believe that the greatest efficiency gains will be made where engines and lubricants are developed in collaboration. As such, we have developed technology collaborations with many OEMs, fostering a co-engineering approach that sees both of our organisations work together to formulate new lubricants from the concept stage right through to rigorous field testing until ready for manufacture.
We have found through experience that by taking this approach, we have been able to achieve significant increases in fuel efficiency and we will be able to continue to explore future solutions for the energy challenge. We work with the likes of Daimler, Ducati and Ferrari in the automotive sector and have enjoyed a close technological partnership with Ferrari in particular since 1940.
Can you explain about Shell’s initiatives in this area? Shell has a heritage in developing fruitful collaborations with OEMs. One of the recent collaborations that we are particularly proud of is with Gordon Murray Design Ltd. (GMD). GMD is a well respected automotive design company and is responsible for designing a number of world-class ‘smart’ cars in recent years. Its founder, Professor Gordon Murray, was previously the Technical Director for Mclaren Formula One. Understanding the potential of lubricant technology from his Formula One days, he saw Shell as the ideal technical partner to push the boundaries in the search for ultimate fuel economy.
Shell also works hand in hand with Ferrari in Formula One and uses it as a test bed to develop high performance fuels and lubricants. Shell has a dedicated team of specialists that operate a track-side laboratory at every Grand Prix. This team is responsible for testing oil and fuel samples from Ferrari’s race cars and gathering data from circuit testing and during the races themselves. They analyse the performance of the Shell Helix lubricant and other specialist lubricant products to see their performance under extreme conditions. The knowledge Shell gains in Formula One, is then applied in the development of Shell’s everyday lubricant products used by ordinary motorists. We ensure that our technology transfers smoothly from the track to the road.
Shell has a long and extensive relationship with Daimler. Shell developed synthetic heavy duty diesel oil called Rimula R6 LME in close collaboration with the German truck manufacturers. Taking a co-engineering approach resulted in the development of a lubricant that can deliver low-viscosity fuel saving performance. The product was recently supplied to trucks taking part in Daimler’s 10,000km ‘Record Run 2011’ to test the fuel efficiency of its newest truck series. The fuel consumption of the Mercedes-Benz Actros Euro V and Actros Euro VI was tested against consumption in the current Actros MP3 Euro V truck (which set the fuel consumption world record for 40 tonne trucks in 2008). All three trucks were powered by Shell FuelSave Diesel and lubricated with Shell Rimula R6 LME heavy duty engine oil. These helped Daimler achieve fuel savings of 7.6 per cent on the new Actros Euro V and 4.5 per cent on the Euro VI compared to the Actros MP3.
So, what kind of opportunity you see in terms of developing partnerships with Indian automotive OEMs?The rapid development of the Indian economy has led to a rise in the number of Indian companies expanding in global markets. The global nature of the Shell Lubricants business means that it is an ideal partner to bring experience and expertise that can be transferred to products that are being developed in India for the international market. At present we are working in partnership with some of the leading OEMs in India such as Tata Motors, Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and John Deere. Tata Motors is the dominant force in the Indian truck sector and Shell has worked for a number of years with the company on a number of joint projects. We also have other long term collaborations in the automotive sector and have worked with Maruti Suzuki in India since 1996. We will continue to deepen these relationships as the Shell Lubricants business further develops in the region.
Earlier this year, Shell developed an innovative concept engine lubricant capable of achieving a 6.5 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency. How is this possible?The concept lubricant is one of the fruits of our partnership with Gordon Murray Design (GMD).
GMD’s innovative low-carbon T.25 city vehicle was used as a test bed by scientists and engineers from both companies. The team used advanced mathematical modeling to help define the optimum lubricant for the vehicle’s engine to balance protection with fuel efficiency. Then, by working beyond current industry specifications, the team developed a concept lubricant to meet this optimum requirement.
The 0W-10 concept oil was tested against 10W-30 oil, a commonly used lubricant viscosity in Europe. The test shows an increase in the overall fuel efficiency of the vehicle by 6.5 per cent with the new formulation, around three times the saving that can be made by modern lubricant formulations currently on the market.
What are your strategies to take this initiative to a greater level? The concept oil we developed with GMD along with other formulations developed with other technical partners, will undergo further extensive long-term testing for real-world application in the future.
Overall, developing energy-efficient products is a key research area for us in Shell. We have world-class fuels and lubricants experts who have deep knowledge in the fundamental science behind energy-efficient product technology. One of the next steps in this work will be to conduct test in collaboration with leading OEMs, ultra low-viscosity lubricant formulations over a longer time period to understand better the performance of these novel formulations in relation to engine protection and oil durability. This testing will provide insights into any potential engine wear or oil degradation concerns and how engine design and lubricants formulation can be co-engineered to help provide solutions to other technical challenges in the future.

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