Can Low Viscosity Engine Oils Boost Fuel Economy?



What does the future of engine oil look like?

According to Shell Rotella reps at a press event in Hamburg, Germany, this week, lowering the viscosity of heavy duty engine oils is the name of the game for the foreseeable future.

Shell is vigorously testing low viscosity oil’s ability to protect an engine the same way 15W-40 oil does, and so far the tests show it does, says Dan Arcy, company OEM technology manager.

Shell Technology Manager Keith Selby is confident in a better-than-3-percent increase, saying low viscosity oils are capable of increasing fuel economy by 3.5 percent.  “So,” he says, “that’s the way of the future.”  Lower viscosity oil makes it easier for engine parts to move around, which is what allows the boost in fuel economy.

Oil’s viscosity — the thickness of the engine oil — holds the key to pushing fuel consumption down and helping engine manufacturers meet the challenges placed in front of them by federal regulations that mandate increased fuel economy for trucks and lowering carbon dioxide emissions.

Richard Tucker, Shell’s GM of technology for the commercial fuel and lubricants division, said lubricant makers know lowering the viscosity of the oil (making it thinner) used by heavy duty trucks/locomotives will increase fuel economy and, in turn, lower carbon dioxide emissions.

The challenge, though, says Tucker, is to ensure the oil used by the industry still does its job of keeping an engine’s vital parts lubed and working properly and that it does not decrease engine life when compared to using the standard 15W-40 engine oil used today.

“How do we get lowest viscosity we can while still protecting engine? This is the challenge,” Tucker says.

Shell already has a team in place working on what he called ultra-low viscosity oil.  The ultra-low project involves working with OEMs to determine what parts of the engine would be affected by that oil and working on ways to mitigate those effects, he says.

Thus it looks like it is not only ultra-low sulphur fuels but ultra-low viscosity oils which are about to hit the market soon.  Though the above write-up is exclusively for heavy duty truck and locomotive engines, marine engines are not a way far from it.

Credits: Shell Lubricants & Overdrive.