Message 12

Hydrotreated petroleum oil can now be legally called synthetic. Here are the emails sent to our subscribers explaining all about it. Start at MESSAGE ONE, then TWO etc..

Message 12

Postby ogrady » 2005 Wed Nov 02, 12:37 pm


'The Synthetic Definition of Synthetics' Part 2

Here is Part 2 of this very informative article.

Lubes-n-Greases, August 2004 issue,
'The Synthetic Definition of Synthetics' by Thomas F. Glenn

There is still a good deal of disagreement within the lubricants industry about the definition of synthetics, starting with the right of very high viscosity index API Group III base stocks to be sold as "synthetics."

As discussed in last month's column, on one side of the aisle are those who say Group III base stocks are unquestionably synthetic. Although not necessarily built up from smaller molecules (as polyalphaolefins are), Group III's are technically synthetic because they are synthesized by restructuring bonds and rearranging molecules through hydrocracking and catalytic dewaxing.

In addition, proponents say, API Group III based lubricants rightfully deserve to wear the synthetic label because on their own or in combination with other synthetics or additive chemistries, they can deliver performance equivalent to or better than that provided by full PAO formulations.

In their view, this means that the only significant difference between PAO and Group III is economics. As a result, it's not unusual to hear sentiments such as these, voiced by Thom Smith of Valvoline, in Lexington, Ky.: "it would be a disservice to the consumer and the industry if we were forced to use only PAO in synthetic engine oils since with the right additive system Group III can get us to the same point or beyond - more cost effectively. At the end of the day it is the performance of the finished oil in an engine that matters, not what you used to formulate that oil."

Others, however, contend that Group III's at best are only partial synthetics. Although some of its molecules may be synthesized, a significant percentage of a Group III's other hydrocarbons are not. As a result, points out Tom Schaefer at Hatco Corp. in Fords, N.J., Group III's may be mixtures of synthetic and conventional base stocks, not "true" or "full" synthetics like PAOs and esters.

Furthermore, although Group III's can deliver performance similar to PAO, "similar" is not the "same," says Dan Myrick of Summit Industrial Products, based in Tyler, Texas.
He and others maintain that PAO will outperform Group III's under high temperatures and other demanding conditions, particularly in industrial lubricant applications.
Otherwise, "you can be sure that Summit and others would opt to use the lower-priced Group III's, rather than carrying the cost burden of using PAOs," notes Myrick.

Some also take issue with the 1999 National Advertising Division ruling that gave Group III's the right to wear the synthetic label. They believe that the Group III-equals- synthetic argument was based solely on the performance of one high-quality Group III fluid (Shell's XHVI product, created from a slack-wax feedstock) and that NAD's conclusions were overly broad and blind to the differences that exist along the Group III quality continuum.

As a result, they insist, consumers can be hurt because price pressures will naturally push blenders to use lower-priced - and presumably lower-quality - Group III's in their synthetic lubricant products.

Although there certainly does seem to be a good deal of logic and passion on both sides of the aisle, most agree it's very unlikely that Group III will be stripped of its synthetic lubricant label. But the mere fact that these arguments persist nearly six years after the NAD ruling does point to an important issue:

There really is no official technical definition for a synthetic lubricant, and the unofficial marketing definition now spans a broader continuum of quality than in the past.

Furthermore, although the upper limit of this continuum is arguably defined by PAO, esters and other base stocks with 100 percent synthesized molecules, the lower limit is now set by API's minimum requirements for Group III.

This means that the lower limit on the quality of synthetic base stock is defined by saturates, sulfur and VI. - not by a chemical process or performance level.

The significance of this becomes clear when one considers that the same arguments that brought Group III into the fold as synthetics now can be used as a precedent to do the same with higher VI (Sean - Viscosity Index) Group II's. After all, these base stocks can be made by the same processes as Group III, and can contain a similar percentage of synthesized molecules.

In addition, some Group II's can deliver performance advantages nearly equivalent to Group III and in fact PAO.

So what will stop the industry from calling high VI Group II base stocks or even overly extracted Group I "part-synthetic"? In the extreme case of a 119 VI Group II base stock, the answer is one VI unit, plus the industry's unspoken rule that Group III's can be "synthetic" but Groups I and II cannot.

The debate and disagreements run even deeper on this issue, as we will see in next month's column.

But as we learned with PAO, unspoken rules can be challenged and changed. If viscosity index is the de facto gatekeeper policing the definition of synthetics, the industry could be facing a very slippery slope that tilts toward Groups I and II.

Moving forward, the danger is that as the demands of the industry are climbing up the quality continuum, the definition of "synthetic" could very well be sliding down it.


Sean here, I have issues with what Thom Smith of Valvoline has to say.

Thom says, 'it would be a disservice to the consumer and the industry if we were forced to use only PAO in synthetic engine oils since ...(Group III) can get us to the same point...more cost effectively.

What's the word, Popycock?! A disservice? How can using higher performing components be a disservice? Bad me, of course it is a disservice, not to the consumer, to the producer!

Reading between the lines, I see this. 'It is our right to use lower priced components in our oil because it costs us about half as much to make, meaning twice the profit for us.

That's where the disservice is.

Drive safe!

Sean Aughey
Are you still on the 3,000 mile oil change treadmill? Put some convenience in your life!
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