API SN Plus: Timing is key

It looks like the 10 automakers that have petitioned the American Petroleum Institute (API) for a supplemental passenger car engine oil specification to address the growing fleet of turbocharged engines will be getting their request.

The API Lubricants Group unanimously approved their request at a meeting in Washington, D.C. on August 15. The question is will they get it by January 1, 2018, as they requested?

The date is nothing short of a miracle, because in the past, it’s taken API about one year to begin licensing oils against an approved API standard. This time, API only has four months left to do so. The key test, the Ford LSPI test, has been approved by the ASTM Passenger Car Engine Oil Classification Panel for use in the still under development GF-6 standard, but an upcoming parts batch change and ASTM’s approval of the final LSPI test method stand in the way of the test really being ready for use. This process could easily take up a fair share of the four months.

“January 1, 2018 is an aggressive due date. We have an action item to look at timing and testing,” said Kevin Ferrick, senior manager of API’s Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System (EOLCS).

The additive marketers, represented by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), and a key stakeholder in the process, raised some questions that would need to be answered before they could comment on the date, Ferrick said.

“They posed a series of questions that were developed in the course of the meeting. I know the additive companies that were in attendance would like to get those resolved before they commit to a timeline. The timeline is a key thing and they need answers to their questions [first].”

Traditionally API would require a 1–year waiting period from time of standard approval before allowing licensing of oils against the standard.

“We have to allow sufficient time for marketers to get their products in place. I am not sure I can remember anything shorter than nine months.”

But the growing fleet of turbocharged gasoline direct injection (TGDi) engines – Ford Motor Co., one of the petitioners, said that 25% of their new models will have TGDi engines in 2018 – makes the request super urgent. Pre-ignition occurrence is currently being experienced in TGDi engines, and engine oil formulations are critical in preventing these from happening. LSPI can harm, even destroy, engines. Thus, the urgent request.

The supplemental category will not be an ILSAC GF-5 Plus, as earlier indicated but more likely an API SN Plus, because “In reality it is going to be related to the ‘donut’. They don’t want to change the API Starburst. If an oil qualifies for GF-5 or SN Plus, it will be identified in the API donut,” Ferrick explained. The donut is the circle that appears on the motor oil label to identify the oil’s performance claims.

API SN Plus will have to meet all the existing requirements of the current ILSAC GF-5. In addition, it will include the Ford LSPI test or, possibly, a passing GM LSPI test. It will also include all GF-5 viscosity grades plus SAE 0W-16.

According to Ferrick, automakers participating in the meeting reported that there are motor oil formulations in the marketplace that have passed the GM LSPI test, which is a General Motors in-house test. That means there are motor oil formulations already in the market that could meet the requirements of API SN Plus. But the GM LSPI test has to meet certain API requirements to be considered as part of the new specification.

“We have to get a better understanding of the GM LSPI test, if it can be suitable. We have to look at how the test is administered. From the API perspective it has to be readily available to anyone who wants to run it, and have published limits so everyone knows what passing means,” Ferrick said.

For API, readily available means that the test can be run in an independent lab such as Intertek or Southwest Research Institute, for example.

Under API’s provisional licensing, a test can be declared unavailable if the test is not available at an independent lab, although it may be available at an in-house facility of an additive supplier.

For API to consider using a test that was not an ASTM test, the following are key: it has to have adequate permission, everyone should have equal access to the test, test methods are clearly defined and available for anyone and the test limits are clearly defined.

The GM LSPI test is not an ASTM method. “Our preference is it is an ASTM method or any other standard setting body that has a test method.”