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Shell Lubricants: Intent, effort and investment equals sustainability
Photo courtesy of Shell

Shell Lubricants: Intent, effort and investment equals sustainability

As a market leader, Shell bears the responsibility of spearheading the energy transformation. But, for trailblazers like Shell, sustainability isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s a strategic necessity. “It is imperative that we lead the industry on the sustainability journey,” says Mansi Madan Tripathy, Shell Lubricants’ vice president for Asia-Pacific.

Shell Lubricants: Intent, effort and investment equals sustainability
Mansi Madan Tripathy

In the latest episode of F+L Webcast, Vicky Denton, CEO and editor-in-chief of F&L Asia Ltd., sat down with Tripathy, who was also recently appointed country chair for Shell India effective October 1, 2023, to delve into Shell Lubricants’ sustainability journey and other key areas of focus in the Asia-Pacific region.

Shell’s commitment to sustainability is deeply ingrained in its identity as a market leader, says Tripathy, and it extends far beyond just the environmental aspects; it encompasses a holistic approach to responsible business practices, she says. Not only that, lubricants have a significant role to play in the transition, and Shell will be “leaving money on the table” if they are not at the sharp end of the transformation.

Tripathy has a diverse background, from leading business growth in razors and blades at American multinational consumer goods corporation, Procter & Gamble, to managing lubricants at Shell in Asia-Pacific since 2019. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technology from the National Institute of Technology Kurukshetra in Haryana, India, and an MBA in Marketing from S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research, one of the top management institutes in India, located in Mumbai.

In Asia-Pacific, Shell has achieved a 35% reduction in its Scope 1 and 2 emissions compared to 2016 baseline in our Shell-operated lubricant manufacturing assets, says Tripathy.

Tripathy credits the emissions reduction efforts to a combination of strong intent, effort and smart investment decisions—noting the collective efforts from every part of the business. Shell’s efforts are focused not only on individual company improvements but also on the fundamental role of lubricants in improving efficiency. From a longer-term perspective, we want to provide the best and the most sustainable products to our consumers, she says.

The Shell representative acknowledged that the energy major’s sustainability journey has required experimentation and some difficult investment decisions.  There have been bold portfolio choices that sometimes contradict the obvious growth path—to avoid a higher carbon footprint, she says.

Shell Lubricants: Intent, effort and investment equals sustainability
Photo courtesy of Shell

The low-hanging fruit is investments in converting the source of power from lubricant blending plants to solar energy. These are easy decisions, as they have a direct payback cycle, says Tripathy. Shell recently doubled the production capacity at its Marunda Lubricants Oil Blending Plant (LOBP) in Bekasi, Indonesia. Part of the upgrade included sustainability features such as  solar-enabled electricity source and a rainwater harvesting system to help reduce water consumption. The new plant is equipped with cutting-edge equipment including  high-speed filling lines and automatic mobile robot, a smart robot system to offload, stage, and assemble the finished goods from the small packaging filling lines to aid truck loading.

While Shell endeavours to reduce its manufacturing carbon footprint year-on-year, the real questions come when the last mile needs to be conquered, says Tripathy.  Tripathy stressed the importance of lubricant manufacturers, the government, OEMs and consumers all working together to accelerate progress.

Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a path to a better future for all. Lubricants are indispensable behind-the-scenes enablers of a modern world. They play a vital role in the efficiency, longevity and sustainability of machinery and vehicles; yet, their importance is often overlooked by the general public. Only a small percentage of “passionate” consumers, around 10 to 12%, are knowledgeable about this technology-driven field, says Tripathy. 

Those responsible for procurement in organisations have a strong grasp of the critical role of lubricants in the total cost of ownership—preventing downtime and driving energy efficiency. However, Tripathy emphasised the need to increase the relevance of the category to the rest of the community moving forward. We need to provide the best experience for both Shell’s customers and our consumers—in terms of assurance of product performance and their sustainability credentials, she says. 

During the webcast, Tripathy emphasised Shell’s commitment to Asia and outlined major opportunities in the Asia-Pacific lubricant landscape. Although a major challenge lies in the cost-conscious nature of many consumers, particularly in Asia, she says.

There is a mismatch between OEM recommendations and the lubricating oils found in actual usage, says Tripathy. This provides a significant opportunity to ensure people are using the right product for their equipment. Tripathy highlighted a white paper by the Asian Lubricants Industry Association (ALIA) that indicated API CF-4 and older oils comprise around 70% of all commercial vehicle engine oils in Indonesia. 

It’s not premium oil for the sake of premium either. Correct usage improves emissions, reduces fuel usage, minimises breakdowns and more. Once you start addressing the economic benefits of modern oils, it becomes an easier discussion. 

Shell Lubricants: Intent, effort and investment equals sustainability
Photo courtesy of Shell

Similar opportunities exist in passenger car motor oil (PCMO). In Asia-Pacific (excluding China) between 12 and 35% of consumers have experienced a fully synthetic product and the associated benefits, says Tripathy. This contrasts with China, which has undergone a massive category conversion into synthetics. 

Electric vehicles (EVs) will eventually reduce the demand for traditional lubricants. However, Tripathy expects the impact on Shell’s Asia-Pacific business will not be too pronounced. 60% of the category is in manufacturing as well as commercial vehicles—which are less affected by the transition to electrification. The impact as a percentage is not that high, she says.

In any case, lubricants still have an important role to play in an electrified future. Tripathy outlined Shell’s broad range of electric vehicle lubricants including e-transmission fluids, e-thermal fluids and e-greases. New requirements in EVs will allow businesses to cross-compensate for what they lose in the internal combustion engine arena.  Nonetheless, Tripathy noted the importance of continuing to innovate. 

Shell has shifted its focus from lubricants to friction reduction—a much wider playing field. The job to be done is not just providing lubricants but offering the most efficient and effective friction-reducing solutions to our consumers, she says. Defining our purpose that way opens a lot of avenues from a digitisation and real-time analytical perspective—and offers new revenue streams.