PITTSBURGH. Improvements in truck fuel economy and engine performance will require lubricants that “break the mold and challenge current thinking,” according to Mark Ferner, lubricants group manage for Shell Global Solutions U.S. One of the keys to this next generation of lubes is gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology, a process that turns natural gas into longer chain hydrocarbons that can be distilled into high quality base oils, as well as kerosene and diesel fuel.
While the process is not new, changing economics have made GTL more practical, and Shell has just begun ramping up production at the world’s largest GTL plant alongside a major natural gas field in Qatar, United Arab Emerites. The syngas that will be the plant’s end product can then be processed much like crude to create jet fuels, diesel and a high quality synthetic base oil, according to Ferner.
“This very high quality base stock will allow us to build lubricant formulations for maximum performance, including better cold cranking viscosity and ultra low viscosity” for improved fuel economy, Ferner said during a press briefing.
In recent tests by Shell researchers, a GTL-based 5W-30 oil outperformed a standard 5W-30 in the Mack T 12 test to measure wear and oil consumption, as well as far exceeded minimum specifications for a CJ oil, Ferner reported. A 5W-30 or 10W-30 could be an important part of reaching federal fuel economy standards expected by 2014 for heavy trucks, he added.
With the Qatar plant expected to be ramping up to full production by the end of the year, Ferner said the U.S. market could expect to see the first commercially available GTL products in early 2012. As for price, Ferner said it was too early to talk about specifics, but speculated that “in general, they should be priced in line with high-quality synthetic base stock products.”