06 November 2013

Approved vs. unapproved

A lubricant is a physical mix of base oils and additives. For most of us the motor oil in our car engine is the closest we ever come to a lubricant. The motor oil consists of 75 % to 80 % base oils the rest being different types of additives. There are keep clean additives, anti-wear additives, and fuel economy additives.

The driver when formulating modern motor oil is improving the fuel economy without compromising engine durability. To achieve this goal low viscosity base oils are needed in combination with strong anti-wear additives and friction modifiers.

Formulating motor oil requires skills in chemistry and engine design. The chemists design the additive package comprising the needed chemical components and the engineers test prototype oils in different test engines. Some top tier lubricant suppliers call this liquid engineering, Castrol. Some engine manufacturers say they design the engine around the motor oil, Ford Ecoboost. Approving motor oil is a very long and costly process. Typical cost is millions of euros per formulation. The aim of the approval process is to protect customers and end users from purchasing lubricant products with incorrect product specifications and performance claims, and to minimize engine failures and warranty expenses for the car manufacturers. The approval process is strictly controlled in developed countries. ACEA (Association for European Engine Manufacturers), JASO in Japan and API (American petroleum institute)

Base oils being the major part in motor oil, there are certain special rules for the base oils. There is very limited interchangability between different base oils from different producers in top tier motor oil segment. The motor oil producer cannot freely change the base oil in the formulation from company A to company B. A big amount of tests are needed and a lot of money has to be spent. Such strict approach is to safeguard the consumer.

Despite the strict approval processes it was recently found by API in the US that up to 20% of the approved motor oils on the market did not pass the API specifications. It is clear that more policing on the motor oil market is needed. There are some new initiatives in the US and Europe to improve the control on the market. However sampling the market and testing the samples are very complicated and expensive.

As mentioned above strict rules are also applies to top tier base oils. BOI (Base Oils Interchangability ) is limited to ensure the quality of the motor oil. On the base oil market there are suppliers with approved products and bulk players with unapproved products. The suppliers with approved base oils have spent millions on testing while the other group has spent nothing. Motor oils being vital for the engine the engine manufactures put a lot of effort in controlling the quality of the motor oils. Big lubricant suppliers cooperate with engine manufacturers for factory fill. Approved base oils are a part of the car industry-lubricant industry value chain, unapproved are not. The market has finally recognized this. We can see the first signs of this. The new price reports will start differentiation between approved and unapproved products. It is good to be a supplier of approved base oils.

Henrik Holmqvist
Senior Advisor, Base Oils