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Group I is shrinking fast

To better support its customers, Nynas has hired a new Senior Technical Coordinator in Naphthenics – Thomas Norrby. A former R&D manager for Statoil Lubricants, Thomas has a long history in the lubricants industry. He takes a moment to explain some major shifts in the business and why oil companies and universities can have a win-win relationship.

What are some of the major trends that you see in the industry?

The first major trend in the last 20 odd years has been the drive for cleaner traffic, with very steeply reduced legal limits for regulated emissions like CO2, VOC, NOx and PM. The strict limits have accelerated cleaner engine technology, several types of catalysts, and the development of engine oils based on synthetic and low SAPS technology. This has changed the base oil landscape completely; 20 years ago Group I held about 90 percent of the market, today it is about 50 percent and shrinking fast. Thus, very substantial new volumes of Group II and Group III have come on steam.

Looking back at your career, was there any particularly challenging or rewarding research?

My R&D team successfully developed several generations of bio lubricants and other environmentally acceptable lubricants (EALs), across auto and industrial applications. We helped spread the word and helped sales grow substantially. We also worked with a Swedish original equipment manufacturer to pioneer a new type of clutch fluid for all-wheel drives, a market segment that is growing exponentially.

How has technology allowed research to progress in the past few years?

IT and systems have allowed advances in sharing data, of course, and also helped us in searching for and retrieving data, which has speeded up research. In general, the base oil and additive technology landscape is evolving rapidly and opens new windows of opportunity for formulations. Globally available base oil slates and additive technology make it much easier to serve customer needs around the world.

You're also an affiliate professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. How close do the industry's big players and academia cooperate? Does the relationships need to be closer, or more independent?

Within the applied sciences, it is quite feasible to find win-win situations. The students are generally quite interested in understanding industry needs, and we can help the research staff with topics, project ideas, support and funding. As long as the projects are wisely set up, it is quite possible for the industry to extract valuable information while letting academia publish and teach openly. It is a close, but independent relationship. Very sensitive projects must be carried out in-house, though.

In your decade and a half in the industry, what were some of the biggest breakthroughs or changes?

As I mentioned before, it's primarily the changing base oils landscape with the rise of Group II and Group III, and growing environmental awareness and interest in bio lubricants. And there's the globalisation of formulations and technology, with a huge consolidation of the lubricants business – only one third of the lubricant companies that existed 15 years ago are still operating as independent companies today.

Text: Chad Henderson

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