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Infineum's journey towards sustainability: Plans and future strategies
Photo courtesy of Infineum

Infineum’s journey towards sustainability: Plans and future strategies

Despite a collective effort to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), emissions continue to rise. 2022 was the worst year on record with global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reaching 36.8 billion tonnes, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Infineum's journey towards sustainability: Plans and future strategies

In February 2023, Infineum announced a global ambition to reach net zero for Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2050. Scope 1 and 2 include direct emissions owned or controlled by an organisation and indirect emissions generated from purchased energy. On July 20, 2023, the United Kingdom-based specialty chemicals company, a 50-50 joint venture between ExxonMobil and Shell, held a media session at the Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore to share its sustainability achievements and plans. 

Infineum is the first major additive company to announce a net-zero ambition, says Kevin Poindexter, head of sustainability at Infineum. We aim to lead change in the industry, he says. Poindexter has more than 35 years of experience in the fuels and lubricants sector and has been with Infineum since the joint venture was formed in 1999.

“We’ve made great progress in reducing our operational GHG emissions, measuring the carbon footprint of our products, and integrating sustainability into our corporate purpose,” said Poindexter.  Infineum has reduced Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 14% to 2022, against a 20% reduction ambition by 2025. The company’s ambition is to halve Scope 1 and 2 operational emissions by 2030, from a 2018 baseline.

Infineum's journey towards sustainability: Plans and future strategies
Kevin Poindexter

Poindexter said that Infineum is not focused on carbon offsets. A true net-zero ambition means eliminating and removing emissions, and only relying on offsets for the “final bit” that we cannot remove. Carbon offsetting is coming under a lot of scrutiny. Infineum is investing in specific projects over the next several years to reduce operational GHG emissions. From 2025 through 2030, a significant allocation of global capital investment each year will support our ambition to fully realise the 2030 scope 1 and 2 ambitions.  Plans include expanding solar farms, improving renewable energy mix and further optimising facilities.

Scope 3 includes indirect emissions that occur in the upstream and downstream activities of an organisation. The majority of Infineum greenhouse gases are upstream Scope 3, said Poindexter. He emphasised the challenges of controlling Scope 3 emissions from its suppliers. We can pick suppliers that offer lower carbon solutions, but we have little influence on whether used oil is recycled, he said.

Transportation plays a prominent role in the sustainability of global supply chains. However, transport emissions are not as significant as you might think, said Poindexter. The manufacturing process and location is more important, he said. Emission control measures in place at the manufacturing plant are crucial, and these are typically driven by local regulations.  

To truly be a leader in sustainability and decarbonisation we need to have a Scope 3 ambition, said Poindexter. Infineum is committed to helping its customers achieve their GHG emissions objectives and believes its efforts can help to reduce Scope 3 emissions by about 20% by 2030. Scope 3 upstream and downstream emissions have been characterised using the GHG Protocol Scope 3 Standard.  

During the media day, Infineum outlined four of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that are a priority for the company—Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Partnerships and Good Health and Wellbeing.  

Poindexter emphasised the need for a deep understanding of materials used in its products to drive down emissions. Infineum has integrated sustainable design into its products with every new product evaluated against sustainability criteria, he said. The company’s portfolio sustainability assessment tool, WAVES, allows the product line to be assessed and to drive improvements.

Infineum has been active in improving climate impacts for many years through its efforts to improve fuel economy and extend oil life, said Poindexter.  The Infineum representative also noted that collaboration with stakeholders is more critical than ever. We won’t achieve our global sustainability ambitions if we don’t work together, he said. Finally, Infineum emphasised that the safety and well-being of colleagues and communities are the company’s highest priority.

At the recent F+L Week conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on June 14-16, 2023, Dr. Wenyang Zhang, senior staff mechanical design engineer, drive system engineering at Tesla Inc., pressed the industry of the need for new molecules. One of the challenging aspects of the lubricant industry is the continued reliance on older technology. Key building blocks such as zinc dialkyldithiophosphate (ZDDP), calcium sulfonate and detergents have been around for decades.  It’s pretty evolutionary chemistry, said Poindexter.

However, there are two obvious routes to improved sustainability—re-refined base oils (RRBO) and renewable feedstocks. Base oils are used in components and finished formulations. RRBO is a key strategy for Infineum, said Poindexter. Unfortunately, there is limited supply. 

Greater investment in capacity is required, particularly in Asia. While RRBO supply is a little more advanced in Europe and the United States, it remains fragmented. Asia is also struggling with used oil collection. Creating a market will help drive investment and collection, Poindexter said.  Some of the used oil is incinerated. Ideally, incineration happens with energy recovery, so it is not as CO2 intensive.  But ideally, we will see more re-refining to increase industry circularity.

Infineum's journey towards sustainability: Plans and future strategies
Photo courtesy of Infineum

RRBO has been around for many years. Nevertheless, there are still some industry concerns about quality. Discussions around a standard specification for RRBO have begun, according to Dennis Bachelder, senior engineer at the American Petroleum Institute (API), who also spoke at F+L Week 2023. An industry standard specification may help alleviate some industry concerns. However, Poindexter noted that Infineum has done “substantial testing” and that the quality of RRBO is typically not a major issue. In most cases it is equivalent to virgin base oil, he said. RRBO also offers up to 70% lower CO2 emissions. Base oil interchangeability tests are still required, which come with a hefty price tag. This is one of the things we would like the industry to focus on, said Poindexter.

Base oil isn’t the most carbon-intensive component of the formulation. To remove Scope 3 emissions, additive companies also need to focus on renewable feedstocks.  Infineum is investigating renewable feedstocks for manufacturing components including bio-sourced material.

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a way to quantify the impacts of a product over its entire lifespan. Poindexter emphasised the importance of a harmonised industry approach to carbon measurement. The American Petroleum Institute (API) recently completed the development of API Technical Report 1533, Lubricants Life Cycle Assessment and Carbon Footprinting – Methodology and Best Practice, which defines an industry-specific methodology for life cycle assessment of lubricants and specialty products. Poindexter noted that Infineum supports the API methodology and also follows the guidance developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) which defines the framework, requirements, and terminology for LCA. 

Poindexter also detailed opportunities to drive environmental performance using the Mass Balance Chain of Custody (MBCOC) model. The model tracks the total amount of sustainable and conventional materials (such as RRBO and virgin base oil) mixed in the production process and tracks the sequence of ownership as the product moves through the supply chain. Attributes are virtually assigned to finished products and can be tracked using digital tools, allowing the benefit to be allocated to markets where they are most needed. Recorded quantities can be attributed to the product even if it does not align with the sourcing composition of individual goods—as long as the system-level material input is in balance.  Infineum has piloted the MBCOC model internally to test its feasibility and is now talking to third parties about potential opportunities with mass balance.