Formulating a winning motor oil

  • 12-Aug-2014 01:13 EDT
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Paul Bastien, Senior Research Engineer and Product Development Specialist for Shell Global Solutions (U.S.) Inc., participates in a tour of the Shell Technology Center Houston.

Paul Bastien (SAE Member, 1990), Senior Research Engineer and Product Development Specialist for Shell Global Solutions (U.S.) Inc., is part of a team of scientists and technicians responsible for passenger car motor oil development as well as providing engine and gear oil formulations and technical support to motorsports. Prior to the recent Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, Bastien led a tour of the Shell Technology Center Houston and discussed the use of off-the-shelf Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Full Synthetic 0W-40 motor oil with Shell PurePlus Technology in all Chevrolet twin-turbocharged V6 engines competing in the 2014 IndyCar Series. PurePlus Technology converts natural gas into a clear base oil, which has fewer of the impurities found in crude oil, helping to keep pistons clean, deliver better fuel economy, protect against horsepower loss, and perform in extreme temperatures. Following is an interview with Bastien and Automotive Engineering Assistant Editor Matthew Monaghan:

What is the technology feedback loop like with engine builders, and what does Shell learn from its motorsports involvement?

It’s constant, ongoing communication. Right now, we have a weekly teleconference set up with Roush Yates engine shop. It’s used definitely to get learnings in different aspects. Oftentimes we’re dealing with custom engines. Even though we’re dealing with a relatively old design with the NASCAR engine, a pushrod V8, the componentry in it has advanced when it comes to metallurgy, coatings, and different aspects, so we do get learnings from the hardware that’s inside the engine that we can use in other areas.

How is the natural-gas base oil beneficial in race engines, and what are some key additives?

The base oil is excellent for formulating motorsports oil. It really responds extremely well to the additive technologies. It’s that marriage of the base oil with the additives that gives it an excellent product. The key additives for racing relate to the durability, but also friction modification to get power. It’s a balance of the additives. The additives that are in the racing oil are very similar, almost the same as what’s in a commercial oil, but the balance of the additives are optimized for the race engine. You may have more anti-wear or not, depending on what the engine needs. Typically more friction modifiers in there for performance. But then when it comes to some of the other additives, detergents, dispersants, you’re going to minimize those to optimize for the oil drain interval and the length of time that you’re running.

How is it different formulating an oil for motorsports as opposed to commercial products?

Certifications are very different for the race applications. You’re certifying the oil for an engine. Whereas with our commercial products, we have to know that our oil is going to protect all the different types of engines that are out there that consumers own. You first are dealing with the performance; how does the oil perform, and that’s from horsepower to torque. If we’re going to look at changing and going to a different oil are we going to be better than the oil that’s currently being used. That’s typically the first hurdle. Then it moves on to durability. You can get an oil that performs really well, but the engine won’t last the race. It’s that balance of performance and durability. The oil drainage rules are much different for racing because the drain interval is the race is over and the oil is drained. With IndyCar we’re using our Pennzoil Pure Platinum in that application and the engine has to go 2500 mi but the oil doesn’t.

How much of an impact does oil have on fuel economy in motorsports?

Fuel economy is definitely of interest in motorsports, but it’s that balance of fuel economy and power, and it’s really how the engine tuner handles that. You can tune an engine that you’ll get better fuel economy, but you’ll sacrifice power. It’s that balance of how the engine tuner is going to handle that. We can develop an oil that may give more power on a 1:1 comparison with another oil, but you can tune the engine that you don’t get the power advantage but you can get some fuel economy.

As a chemical engineering graduate, did you always have an interest in motor oils?

My intention when I started working was to work on processing pilot units. When I showed up to work, I was told, ‘We want you to go meet with every department and within every department every group that has openings.’ I got to go through that entire process, and there was an opening that was this technical service. You’re going to be having interactions with external people, dealing with all these different products, and it just seemed different and unique and interesting, as opposed to working on the pilot units. I had that interest, but it just kind of caught my attention.

What’s next in terms of oil formulation for motorsports?

We’re always looking at different additive technologies. What can you do to enhance the properties and characteristics of the products. Right now we have an excellent foundation with the base oil, so there is always improvements and new additives that can come out and just try to find what combinations of things really work best.

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