The right base oil for the finished lubricant Mike Bewsey, Chairman of VLS

These are challenging times. The advent of the coronavirus pandemic has impacted significantly on many areas of the economy. Transport and mobility have been particularly hard hit with the result that as fewer people are moving around, due to national lockdowns imposed by governments around the world, society needs less aviation or road transport fuel.

The way refineries are structured means that for every barrel of crude oil refined, the same amount of barrel cuts are created, from lighter gases at the top to heavier products like bitumen at the bottom. Very little of a barrel of oil is wasted. The result of lockdowns has been to reduce demand for these barrel cuts and so faced with fewer markets for their products, refineries have cut back on production which means less base oil has been produced over the past eighteen months than usual.

With the ending of lockdowns demand for lubricant products, base oil and additives, is increasing. However refineries are still playing catch up so a lag has been created with demand accelerating at a faster rate than supply. This has led to rising base oil prices over the past year. Brightstock has increased in price fivefold since the spring of 2020, Group II base oil has risen fourfold over the same period. Although more recently some signs of stability appear to be returning.

Although analysts believe that prices and supply should ease over the autumn, blenders might be tempted to substitute an approved base oil with an unapproved type faced with supply shortages. However companies whose products carry approvals run a wide range of tests to ensure their products meet the exacting requirements of the European Association of OEMs, ACEA. The products of Exxonmobil, Chevron, SK’s Yubase and Neste’s Nexbase are all subject to many thousands of hours of testing as both stand-alone products as well as being subject to rigorous analysis alongside additive packs in finished lubricant formulations.

It is recognised that the performance of the lubricant

is primarily down to the technology deployed in the additive pack. However the right type of approved base oil is also important to ensure the performance of the finished product. In particular, for those products carrying official approvals, the formulations – down to manufacturer of the base oils – are stipulated and cannot be changed without going through the approval process.

According to the American Petroleum Institute1 ‘not all

base oils have similar physical or chemical properties or provide equivalent engine oil performance in engine testing’. There might be a valid reason for lubricant marketers to have flexibility in choice of base oil between two competing and approved Group II base oils for example. Hence the development of Base Oil Interchange guidelines by API as well as the European Technical Lubricants Association, ATIEL. However the key is that any approved base oil included in interchange guidelines should have been subject to the same rigorous testing and found to meet the same exacting requirements in application.

Chris Castanien, Technical Services Manager of Neste believes that2

‘In a modern setting, four specification

requirements drive base oil selection. From the perspective of engine performance and fuel economy, the essential ones are High Temperature High Shear Viscosity and Kinematic Viscosity. Then there are also base stock specific characteristics that drive base stock group selection – specifically, Volatility and Cold Crank Simulator Performance (CCS).

It might be tempting to consider alternate supply arrangements when faced with shortages and rising prices. However the right choice of base oil is as important as the right additive pack in any finished lubricant formulation.

Sources 1 Diesel/Publications/AnnEREV043019%20rev043019.pdf

2 interchange-makes-sense-only-commodity-markets#594ede3d



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