How lubricants can play an important role in reducing emissions

By Karl Rudman, Business Development Manager, Petro-Canada Europe Lubricants Ltd.

The automotive industry has witnessed rapid change in recent years, with technological innovations, public policy, emissions legislation and end-user demand all resulting in Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) working to refine engine design and functionality.

Perhaps the biggest pressure OEMs are facing now, and in the years to come, is the development of vehicles that deliver a reduced impact on the environment. Vehicle emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxides (NOx) and particulates, are all considered to be primary contributors to air pollution and OEMs are being tasked by legislation to reduce the impact of their engines to air quality.

Legislation on emissions is getting tougher

There are two main areas of legislation when it comes to reducing the impact of vehicle emissions on the environment. The most well recognised are the Euro Emissions Standards which focus on controlling harmful exhaust emissions such as unburnt hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter. This is complemented by broader legislation related to greenhouse gas emissions which for motor vehicles has a particular focus on CO2 emissions.

Implemented in 2014, the latest incarnation of the Euro Emissions Standards (Euro VI) sees a step change in the permissible levels of emissions from both petrol and diesel engines. The inevitable consequence has been the proliferation of exhaust after treatment systems (EATS) such as diesel particulate filters (DPF), selective catalytic reduction (SCR) – paired with AdBlue in commercial vehicles – and catalytic converters in various different forms. These components remove harmful pollutants from the exhaust gas before it exits the tailpipe, but are also sensitive to the type of lubricant that is used in the engine which presents a challenge for formulators. Since a small amount of lubricant is burnt during the normal combustion cycle, the wrong lubricant can promote deactivation of catalytic material or result in blockages to particulate filters that can cause the vehicle to not function correctly.

Legislation related to Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and in particular CO2, has been another main area of focus with increasingly challenging targets for vehicle manufacturers and escalating penalties for those OEMs that don’t meet the average requirement across their range. By 2020 the target is to reduce average CO2 emissions for new vehicles by 40% versus the 2007 emission baseline, and penalties escalate to as high as €95/g CO2 for every gram over the target in the same time frame. This can quickly add up to millions of Euros in fines for an offending equipment builder.

Publically available data suggests that the great majority of OEMs were able to meet the initial target of 130g/km of CO2 for new vehicles set in 2015 with the average measured in 2016 at 118kg/km. There is still work to be done to meet the 2020 milestone of 95g/km of CO2 and a wide range of techniques are being employed in pursuit of that target. The primary challenge here for OEMs is one of fuel efficiency, the principle being that the less fuel that is burnt in going from A to B the less CO2 is produced. Again, this poses new challenges for equipment designers and lubricant developers alike.

Focusing On Fuel Economy To Reduce Emissions

All vehicle emissions are the by-product of the combustion of fuel in air to produce power, so it stands to reason that if you are able to improve the efficiency of that conversion process you will consume less fuel and therefore generate proportionally less unwanted emissions. To that end, fuel economy has become a primary driver in the design process for OEMs for not only engines but the vehicle as a whole.

High performance, low viscosity lubricants contribute to an OEMs fuel economy strategy in a primary way by reducing friction between engine components and reducing pumping and spinning losses – the work done by circulating pumps and components moving through the oil. Increased durability and longevity in a lubricant is a critical enabler for other engineering design changes that are often used in pursuit of fuel economy such as smaller, higher revving engines operating at higher temperatures and the increased use of turbo and super chargers. Other operating conditions such as stop start technology also require a more durable lubricant to protect the engine against a substantially increased number of on/off cycles.

When considered over a background of the formulation restrictions applied by sensitive exhaust after treatment units, increasing drain intervals, lower circulating oil volume (weight reduction) and the requirement for greater tolerance of bio-fuels, modern lubricants, such as our DURON™ Next Generation range of heavy duty diesel engine oils, are worlds away from their heavier, mineral predecessors.

As well as embracing the lower viscosities required to promote fuel economy, our formulations have been re-engineered to substantially improve durability across the board to meet the demands of OEMs now and in preparation for changes still to come in the future.

Further information about DURON Next Generation is available online at http://www.duronthetougherthebetter.com/

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ITM Power is a manufacturer and global leader of rapid response electrolyser systems, based in Sheffield UK.