12 January 2015

From PAO to the best possible base oil

Published in Innovation, Oil products, Renewable solutions
Base oil


Senior advisor Henrik Holmqvist, who has worked for Neste Oil for almost 35 years, is an internationally recognized expert in the base oil industry. His input has been crucial in creating the world's best Group III class base oil.

The story of the development of the high-class Group III base oil is a great example of the research and product development that Neste Oil has continued tirelessly for decades.

Without in-depth basic research and continuously listening for the customer's needs we could not have achieved our current success as the producers of the world's best Group III class base oil. In addition to company's own expertise, this success has required a good network and close cooperation with leading partners in the industry.

Green bottle

Henrik Holmqvist started his successful career at Neste Oil's research laboratory in the early 1980s.

”I had the idea that I wanted to do something significant. I called Neste Oil and got a job at their laboratory. Here I had the chance to study oil chemistry and new products thoroughly,” Holmqvist says about his year of apprenticeship and continues:

”After a few years I had become the head of the lab. At the lab I saw a bottle that contained green goo. I was told that it was the bottom product from our hydrocracking unit. I asked what it was for. I was told that it would be cracked to make gasoline and diesel. My first thought was that we could create something even more valuable from such a fine product.”

The mystery of the green bottle continued to puzzle Holmqvist. His instincts as a researcher and businessman had awoken.

He continued to work in developing new products. Soon the laboratory created a new kind of process for producing synthetic base oil PAO. It was used to manufacture winter grade lubricants for demanding conditions. After developing the process, Neste Oil established its own PAO factory in Belgium in 1991.

Cooperation with Chevron

The problem with PAO was its high price. The customers wanted a product that was almost as good but significantly cheaper. Holmqvist, always searching for new ideas, remembered the green substance in the bottle.

Holmqvist has built a good network in oil industry, and at an oil industry conference in London he found out about a catalyst created by Chevron. It allowed the isomerization of the hydrogen cracking base stock. During the process, hydrocarbon rings are opened to create a branched isoparaffin that is free of harmful aromatic compounds and has good cold properties. This is how the process can produce high-quality base oil.

”Immediately after the conference presentation I went to talk with Chevron's guy and told him that I wanted to buy his product. This was the beginning of cooperation between us. We bought a license for the catalyst and opened an EHVI production unit. Our competitors and even our customers laughed at us. We were told that ”we will never need that kind of base oil.”

The production started in 1997 in Porvoo, Finland with an annual production rate of 50,000 tons. In the early 2000s, the process was developed to allow the same unit to produce 250,000 tons of Group III base oil annually. The demand was continuously increasing.

In 2006, Neste Oil started cooperation with Bapco from Bahrain and the construction of our jointly owned production plant was finished in 2012. Our current annual production is 650,000 tons and Neste Oil is the market leader in Group III base oils in Europe.