Issue: Aug 2013


Across three student events held in three continents, Shell puts a spotlight on the important role of engine oils in fuel efficiency, alongside fuels and engine

by Esther Francis

Pressure to take action to improve fuel economy in transport is widespread. Shell’s fuel economy student competition, called the Shell Eco-marathon, is a visible demonstration of Shell’s interest in tackling this collaboratively with students, partners and the public. This year, Shell, in particular, highlighted the unsung role of engine oils in improving the fuel efficiency of a vehicle. Many are aware of the role of cleaner fuels and advanced engines but fewer people are aware of the contribution made by engine oils in the efficiency equation. In fact, engine oils can make a difference of up to 2% .

Selda Gunsel, Vice President of Lubricants Technology at Shell, said “Our technologists have been investing significant resources to create innovative lubricants, including engine oils, to unlock greater fuel efficiency in a vehicle. Lubricants are in contact with almost all parts of the engine and can significantly contribute to fuel economy gains today. The lower the viscosity of the oil, the less fuel an engine needs to use to overcome its resistance. The challenge is to determine the lowest viscosity which still provides the right level of engine protection and durability.”

This year, at the Shell Eco-marathon 2013 series, Shell engaged students on the topic of engine oils and vehicle efficiency through tribology – the science behind lubrication, friction and wear. In Asia (Kuala Lumpur) and Europe (Rotterdam), a new off-track award was introduced to encourage students to think about engine oils as an important component of their vehicle’s efficiency: The Shell Helix Tribology Award. Students used lubrication principles, friction equations and tribology concepts to explain how they took full advantage of the fuel efficiency gains provided by engine oils in their vehicles. The winners were judged by lubrication technology experts from within and outside Shell.

At the Shell Eco-Marathon event in the Americas, Shell reached out to students through an interactive Tribology Speed Matching session. Coming from the idea of “speed dating,” participants moved from table to table within timed segments discussing potential solutions for the efficiency challenge using lubricants. The best idea was voted the winner by all participants.
Norman Koch, Global Technical Director for Shell Eco-marathon, said, “Tribology is here to stay at the Shell Eco-marathon events and we are excited by the innovative ideas we have already seen and those that are yet to come.”

The choice of engine oil can make a real difference to the fuel economy of a vehicle. Shell’s premium products are formulated to have benefits such as helping to increase fuel efficiency, improved cleansing technology and extended oil change capability. Shell’s premium engine oils are Shell Helix (available in all markets except for North America) and Pennzoil (available only in the Americas). All student teams were provided with these products for use at the 2013 Shell Eco-marathon events.

Shell Eco-marathon 2013

• Shell Eco-marathon is a global programme that challenges high school and university student teams to design, build and test the most energy-efficient vehicles.
• With annual events in the Americas, Europe and Asia, this innovation competition pushes future scientists and engineers to travel the farthest distance using the least amount of energy.
• This year the events were held in Houston (Americas) in April, Rotterdam (Europe) in May and Kuala Lumpur (Asia) in July (Note: Asia event was cancelled due to haze but awards still given out). Over 5,000 students from almost 500 teams and 45 countries were picked to participate in the 2013 season.
• Visit to learn more about these events.

Shell Helix Tribology Award

• The inaugural Shell Helix Tribology Award in 2013 gave the competing student teams a first formal opportunity to consider efficiency gains from using lubricants in their own Shell vehicle design.
• Students were asked to look into managing friction in all parts of their vehicle using a Tribology lens to further improve their final SEM 2013 on-track (km/litre) result.
• Student teams could nominate themselves for this off-track award by submitting a report of no more than 1,500 words on how they used Lubrication Engineering principles in their vehicle to improve its fuel economy.
• The judging criteria for the award was as follows:
o Quantifying the impact of lubrication on vehicle performance.
o Modification of engineering designs as result of understanding tribological impacts.
o Application of computer modelling and/or calculations to determine engine/vehicle friction.
o Maximising fuel economy credit for all potentially lubricated components.
o Consideration of lubricant selection and design.
o Demonstration of understanding of concept design limits.
o Consideration of Health Safety Environment (HSE) implications of lubricant choice.
• The winners of the award this year were:
o SEM Europe: Team 505 – Baldos III, Lulea University of Technology (Sweden): The team worked to realise fuel efficiency gains across the complete drive-train covering the engine, gearbox and wheel bearings of their UrbanConcept Ethanol powered vehicle. They also looked at the best choice and amount of lubricant in the right operating conditions for efficiency; they insulated their engine to ensure correct oil temperature.
o SEM Asia: ITS Team 2 #3004 from the Sepuluh Nopember Technology Institute in Bahasa Indonesia. This team displayed their thorough understanding of lubrication principles and their impact on their UrbanConcept biodiesel (FAME) vehicle performance. They selected their lubricant based on this knowledge and made a conscious link to fuel economy, making active alterations to their car.

Tribology Speed Matching Session

• Speed Matching, which was originally developed by Shell GameChanger (, is often used by Shell to stimulate innovative thinking and technical collaboration at organisations such as NASA – responsible for the United States civilian space programme, aeronautics and aerospace research – and Eli Lilly, the 10th largest pharmaceutical company in the world.
• The Tribology Speed Matching session in Houston during SEM Americas was led by Dr. Allie Falender, Shell Innovation Technology Manager and Dr. Wei Yuan, Shell Lubricants Engineer.
• The winning idea was from Adam Fink from St. Paul’s School in Louisiana (USA) and Jonathan Acsenault from the University of Moncton (Canada). Their idea was to design an electromagnetic bearing combined with a compressed liquid containing microscopic pieces of metal to fill in the microscopic abnormalities in the bearing. The compressed liquid would act as a lubricating agent in the bearing.

Shell Lubricants Partnerships

• Shell Lubricants technologists have been investing significant resources into the field of Tribology to create innovative lubricants that can unlock greater fuel efficiency in a vehicle.
• They work closely with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such as Hyundai and Rio Tinto to lead the charge in developing advanced lubricants for specific industries.
• Shell Lubricants also works with academic institutions such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, Imperial College in London, UK and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China to further develop the field of Tribology.
• Engaging students is one part of this wider collaborative effort to produce innovative and efficient lubricant formulations for our customers.

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