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Thursday, 18 August 2011

The evolution and classification of lubricant base oils.

We’ve all heard about the API classification of oils: But how is the classification of  lubricant base oils made? In order to fully understand the classification of lubricant base oils we also have to look at the evolution of lubricant base oils.

From the time that man first invented machines to reduce manual labour, lubricants have become an essential part of day to day industry. For decades crude oil derived lubricant base oils have been used to formulate lubricants for various applications. Today lubricant engineers classify these mineral lubricant base oils in Groups I & II.

The Second World War saw the development of a new breed of machine called a jet or turbine engine. Conditions prevailing inside this new machine were so extreme that a new lubricant had to be developed to ensure long term reliability. Fortunately both the Americans and Germans were already in the early stages of producing Synthetic lubricants. Manufactured by man in a laboratory by reacting long chain alcohols and acids, these lubricant base oils
(base fluids)  were known as ‘Esters’. From the Ester technology branched several new synthetic basestocks, including polyolesters, diesters and PAGs. These highly evolved lubricant base oils were later classified in ‘Group V’.

In the early 70’s, the Mobil Oil Corporation developed and marketed a new type of synthetic lubricant base oil called PAO (polyalphaolefin). This base fluid was derived through a chemical process wherein Ethylene (a mineral oil derivative) was modified to give a final fluid with very good lubricating properties. With these PAO’s, Mobil formulated the first long life crank case oil for use in motor vehicles. One of the most significant characteristics of PAO is it’s ability to perform at low temperatures, making it ideal for engine oils working in North American and European climates. PAO’s were later classified as Group IV lubricant base oils.

The mid eighties saw the major oil companies develop a new basestock technology. These new lubricant base oils, while not able to reach performance levels of the Group IV and V ‘synthetics’, were superior to their mineral oil counterparts. These were formed by artificially modifying mineral oils and removing a high percentage of the impurities or weaker molecular structures, inherent in mineral oils. Different oil companies employ different ultra refining techniques, but essentially all form part of Group III, base fluids. These lubricant base oils are more commonly known as; VHVI, UCBO (unconventional base oils), hydrocracked or hydroisomerised oils. Right or wrong, these Group III base fluids have earned themselves a place in the group of base fluids referred to as ‘synthetics’

Today there exists a multiplicity of lubricant base oils, ranging from Group I, up to the extreme or ultra performance Group V synthetics (in the truest sense of the word). Each of these groups has a place in the lubricants market and Habot has now embraced the Group III technology to include a brand new range of performance lubricants.

By formulating synthetic lubricants with Group III lubricant base oils, Habot can now offer a wider range of lubricants which are more ‘purpose specific’, thereby optimizing the concept of "Price for Performance"

To find out more about how lubricant base oils are used in Synthetic oils read the article on What is synthetic oil.