Uncertainty brings challenges in North America

The United States has seen dramatic changes in the regulatory landscape in 2021. Since taking office on January 20, President Joe Biden has systematically overturned much of former President Donald Trump’s regulatory legacy.

One major change in the new administration’s approach to lawmaking is its emphasis on the consequences of its policies for marginalised and vulnerable communities, ensuring they are not disproportionately burdened by any regulatory steps taken by federal agencies. For example, the administration intends to build environmental justice into its climate policies. This is comparable to the impact assessments conducted by the European Commission under its “Better Regulation” principles.

The U.S. has signed onto the United Nations’ report on climate change, and its contents will help drive the Biden administration’s sustainability agenda. Addressing climate change is a key part of the $3.5 trillion budget proposal moving through Congress at the time of writing.

President Biden has set a goal for half of new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030. On the whole, automakers are not confident this will be possible without substantial federal investment in infrastructure and financial incentives for vehicle buyers. There is some money in the proposed budget for infrastructure, but it may not be enough to tip the balance toward EVs.

However, if electrification does pick up momentum, lubricant manufacturers are concerned about what a move away from fossil fuels will mean for them. Engine oils would take a hit, of course. If not as many engine blocks are being built, what happens to the market for metalworking fluids? How quickly will the change happen?


Caitlin Jacobs, Director of Communications, Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association (ILMA)

But EVs will still need fluids, and the North American lubricants industry is working to ensure it can provide high-performance products. The American Petroleum Institute’s Lubricants Group met in August to set up a task group that will start developing specifications for EV driveline fluids. Independent laboratory Southwest Research Institute in May launched an industry consortium called Advanced Fluids for Electrified Vehicles to foster powertrain advancements and better understanding of the stressors placed on e-fluids.

Despite the industry disruptors that come with climate change mitigation, North American lube makers recognise the growing importance of sustainability and are taking concrete steps to address the issue. For example, a consortium of lubricant and plastic packaging manufacturers set up the National Lubricant Container Recycling Coalition earlier this year to find solutions for recovering and recycling used plastic lubricant containers. The U.S.-based International Council for Machinery Lubrication has also developed ICML 55, an asset-management standard that includes a section on sustainability and the environment in lubricant selection.

In the realm of engine oils, the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association (ILMA) often hears questions about demand for 0W lubricants in North America, given the viscosity’s contributions to lowering emissions. Demand has not yet materialised, as no cars sold in this market call for such ultra-low viscosities. And while ACEA 2021 has not received much attention among ILMA members, North American OEMs formally requested in August a supplement to the API SP passenger car engine oil specification that would include low-speed pre-ignition protection in aged oils. ILMA members are also keeping a wary eye on the nascent International Fluids Consortium (IFC) as a potential disruptor to the established order.

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