Electric vehicle lubricants and growth forecast for e-fluids in India

Due to the proprietary and often unique elements manufacturers use in their design of EVs, the lubricants have to be tailored and customized to extract optimum performance.

Updated: Feb 19, 2021 5:55 PM

Since the drive to decarbonize propelled the automobile industry towards electric vehicles, India will continue to be a large market of interest. In 2015, the Indian government adopted the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and EV (FAME) scheme with an outlay of INR 8.95 billion (USD 130 million), which provided subsidies for electric 2- and 3-wheelers, hybrid and e-cars and buses. The ultimate objective of this scheme was to promote cleaner mobility solutions and financial incentives for enhancing electric vehicle production and the creation of sustainable transport solutions.

Subsequently in the year 2019, FAME II policies were announced by the Indian government to generate demand by way of supporting 7000 e-Buses, 5 lakh e-3 Wheelers, 55000 e-4 Wheeler Passenger Cars (including Strong Hybrid) and 10 lakh e-2 Wheelers In the personal mobility space, a report has indicated that Indians are open to switching to EVs as early on as 2022, earlier than the global average of predicted EV adoption by consumers in 2025. However, the report also highlighted several nuanced aspects of Indian consumer and fleet manager expectations, related to infrastructure, pricing, charging duration, range covered at the wake of a single charge to name a few.

While none of these directly relate to the electronic fluid lubricant sector, indirectly, the e-fluids are inexorably tied to vehicle’s performance, running and maintenance costs. Overall, the personal mobility space is where most growth is expected at least over the next few years, especially since the BS-VI compliance rules have come into effect. Hence it is in this sector that companies are likely to experience a greater return for their investment into the development of EV-compatible fluids and lubricants.

In order to meet the needs of the next generation of electric vehicles, global lubricant companies are investing their R&D resources into engineering lubricants for electric vehicles to minimize friction loss, enhance durability, bolster efficiency, and strengthen other performance aspects. According to market research, the global automotive lubricants market was valued at USD 65.8 billion in 2018 and is expected to register a Compound Annual Growth Rate CAGR of 4.6% during the forecast period from 2019 to 2025.

Using traditional lubricants highly evolved as they are is not an option for EVs, as they can post multiple problems starting from viscosity-related complications to corrosion of other elements of the EV design, all of which will seriously compromise performance, and longevity of the vehicle. Engineering quality e-fluids involve key differences and presents unique challenges compared to designing fluids for internal combustion motors (ICMs).

The degree of customization needed is much greater because e-fluids need optimization with vendor-specific motors and other mechanical components. This is why e-fluids require a much more research-intensive technical strategy to develop and optimize.

Due to the proprietary and often unique elements manufacturers use in their design of EVs, the lubricants have to be tailored and customized to extract optimum performance in terms of the electric motor, battery pack, friction reduction, anti-wear performance, electrical compatibility and insulation. Vital electrical components of EV require transmission oils for differentials, wheels, brake fluids, coolants for the battery pack, gear reducers and specialized grease for other components.

Collaboration between companies developing e-fluids and EV manufacturers, therefore, is one of the keys to success for this industry. Several technical elements such as thermal control and avoiding electrical loss of the systems have to be considered while designing e-fluids. For the former, companies need to work completely in tandem with thermal management system teams of automotive manufacturers, the latter requires in-depth knowledge of the electrical parameters of the vehicle’s systems such as dielectric strength, dissipation factor and volume resistivity which avoids electrical losses in the system.

Also read: New solid-state lithium-metal EV battery promises 80% longer range than lithium-ion tech

Finally, for the motor, the rule of thumb is that the efficiency of the lubricant in minimizing electric consumption is determined by its ability to minimize friction between components of the motor. This is directly tied to one of the factors indicated in the report cited above directly influencing consumer choice, namely the range, or the distance the vehicle can cover on a single charge.

Several technical strategies are being considered by industry experts to best achieve performance outcomes while ensuring proper efficiency and electrical power as well as thermal control. These range from using hydrolubes or incorporating nanotechnology in designing e-fluids to act as coolants for battery packs of EVs, to coupling synthetic and titanium-based complexes in greases and using phosphorus and sulfur-based additives to reduce viscosity.

A parallel approach is considering environmentally friendly biodegradable e-fluids that are more organic in origin. This is a fast-evolving and active research space that is going to unfold in the years to come as the industry keeps on fine-tuning and optimizing e-fluids with time.

There has been considerable trepidation in the industry about the fate of the lubricant manufacturing companies as EVs are predicted to gradually overtake ICM based vehicles. However, the lubricant industry responded early to shift to e-fluids, and the sector will see growth over the next few years as already considerable research has gone into developing e-fluids, and there are already excellent products in development worldwide.

The lubricant industry relies more on cars that are on the road at any time frame, and especially after the BS-VI implementation in India, the industry is poised well to launch into research in e-fluids and develop them over the next few years, as the shift to EV becomes gradually more mainstream. Ultimately, the future of this industry will also depend heavily on fruitfully collaborating with the EV manufacturers, vendors building and expanding charging infrastructures as well as maintenance providers.

Author: Piyush Sharma, communications consultant & lawyer

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not represent those of The Indian Express Group or its employees.

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