life of a lubricant: developing new lubricants for the future

Developing new lubricants for the global shipping industry is a complex project, especially as ever-tightening emissions regulations impact engine development and new fuel options arise for operators. Creating new lubricants involves co-operation and engagement with a host of stakeholders. Chevron Marine Products’ Baskaran Balakrishnan outlines the process involved in the formulation of new lubricants for the marine sector.

There are challenging and changing demands within the shipping sector with many stakeholders influencing the development of new marine lubricants.

One of the most significant issues facing the marine sector relates to the amount of emissions ships can release into the atmosphere – most notably sulphur oxides.The International Maritime Organization limits the amount of sulphur in ships’ fuel oil to a maximum of 0.50%. This is a reduction from the previous level which was 3.5% and, naturally, means significantly new targets need to be met.

The regulation has existed since January 1, 2020 and is impacting the type of engines that OEMs are currently developing for new builds. However, there is no doubt that the new limits mean there are less emissions of Sulphur Oxides (SOx) being emitted by the shipping sector.

There is also the likelihood that further and more stringent emissions regulations may enter the market, perhaps specific to particular parts of the world where governments state that ships entering their territorial waters must ensure certain lubricant qualities. These already exist in some regions.

From the start of the process of developing new marine lubricants, oil companies need to closely engage with a number of interested parties and stakeholders. These include government regulators, legislators, inspection bodies, marine engine manufacturers, fuel suppliers and ship operators.

Significantly, from concept to completion and OEM approval the programme to develop and test a new lubricant can take up to five years, of which at least one to two years are the planning phase.

Another factor is the decision by the European Union to include maritime transport in its Emission Trading Scheme which demands that ship operators pay, for the first time, for their carbon emissions.

Chevron Marine Products is constantly researching, formulating, developing and supplying new marine lubricants such as its Taro Ultra Advanced 40 – the latest addition to the range of cylinder oils - which is being rolled out at major ports across Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and, eventually, globally.

In February 2022, the first delivery of Taro Ultra Advanced 40 took place in the United States when it was supplied to a tanker calling at the port of Tampa, Florida.

Obviously, health and safety are key elements in the development process of new marine lubricants.  It should be noted, however, that whichever fuel or fuels may emerge as a favoured option in the marine sector, safety is a key priority for operators and within the engine room.

As part of the development process, Chevron Marine Products makes every effort to minimise the potential impact on the health of both personnel and the environment with a focus on biodegradable ingredients.

Other important drivers and stakeholders in the lubricant development process are the marine engine manufacturers as they are continuously working on improving their own engine equipment efficiency and also their reliability and fuel efficiency.

They are also looking at the changes in the marketplace and the emergence of new fuels, instead of the traditional use of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), which are coming into the marine sector such as ammonia, methanol and bio- and renewable-fuels, or, perhaps, blending hydrogen in with fuels.

Other fuels also include the expanding use of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) which is already extensively available at major ports worldwide although, at this stage, it is not easy to pinpoint which fuel will be the shipping fuel of the future.

That means that companies such as Chevron Marine Products are working on developing lubricants suitable for any fuel type through our own global team of experts based around the world including our personnel throughout Asia, Belgium, Germany, Greece, China and Singapore.

Of course, close liaison with shipping companies is also vital during the development of new lubricants as they require lower costs, reliability, lower maintenance costs, extended warranties and easy operation.

Liaising with fuel suppliers is also part of the teamwork which involves many partners in the lubricant development programme. Fuel suppliers need to make sure 0.5% sulphur fuel is available in all ports for the shipping companies which use them.

Another trend relates to the move from Group l to Group ll base oils which are used to manufacture products including lubricants. Group ll base oils contain less than 0.03% sulphur and are becoming increasingly in demand in the marine sector.

With energy transition underway in the marine sector, Chevron Marine Products is always looking five to ten years ahead as the fuels of the future emerge.

Baskaran Balakrishnan is manager, global marine lubricants product and technology support, Chevron Marine Products, and based in Singapore.