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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited
Comment and opinion
Having long been a keen reader of Industrial Lubrication and Tribology and an associate of former editor Bill Wilson, it is indeed a pleasure to inherit the role on behalf of the British Lubricants Federation. The magazine, under Bill's direction, has progressively changed and developed over a number of years. It is highly regarded as a useful reference source of information on a wide variety of topics relating to lubrication and tribology, as befits its standing in the field of academic publications. Industrial Lubrication and Tribology will continue to feature articles which, whilst reflecting a high technical content, will not be too distant from practical reality.
Nevertheless, we live in times of change and I intend that the magazine will continue to develop further with the passage of time to reflect changing needs. To this end, I would welcome the views from readers of the magazine on the general content, and any suggestions for future subject areas.
At the time of writing, two issues are particularly paramount, namely, the outcome of the World Environmental Conference in Kyoto, Japan, and further mergers within the UK lubricants industry.
Environmental issues play an increasingly important part in all aspects of industry, and will continue to do so. The impact of the agreements to curb emissions of carbon dioxide will affect many industries to a greater or lesser extent, the lubricants industry not being exempt.
Not unexpectedly, the petroleum industry in general has a major interest in developments to reduce emissions, although views and opinions as to the best way to proceed are divided. Lee Raymond, chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Corporation, made a hard-hitting presentation at the recent World Petroleum Congress in Beijing. He highlighted the weaknesses evident in some scientific arguments which linked climate change with the burning of fossil fuels. While acknowledging that most of the world's energy, some 85 per cent in total, is derived from fossil fuels, 43 per cent arising from petroleum products in particular, he questioned the significance of the contribution to carbon dioxide emissions arising from the burning of these fuels. The vast majority of the so-called "greenhouse gases", and especially water vapour, were derived from natural sources, and carbon dioxide accounted for less than one quarter of these gases. Of all the carbon dioxide produced, less than 4 per cent arose as a result of man's activities, i.e. less than 1 per cent overall. Of this 1 per cent, only 0.2 per cent could be attributed to transportation.
On the other hand, John Browne, chief executive of BP, has taken the view that, while the link between greenhouse gases and climate change has yet to be proved conclusively, the possibility cannot be discounted, and society must now take steps to address the situation in a more positive manner. He advocated a step-by-step partnership approach by all those involved, with further research and also actions to develop solutions. He indicated that BP, whose activities and products accounted for only 1 per cent of the total carbon dioxide produced through human activity, had already entered into partnerships with organisations such as the Electric Power Research Institute and the US Department of Energy to develop the strategies to deal with climate change. They were also supporting work being carried out at MIT in Cambridge, MA, and through the Royal Society in London.
The UK Government is committed to its aim of achieving a 20 per cent quantity cut in CO2 levels by concentrating on greater energy efficiency, renewable forms of power generation and the development of an integrated transport policy.
There is no doubt that focus of such attention will play an increasingly important role in the design and development of lubricants, particularly those where the overall benefits arising for energy savings through reduced frictional losses are most significant, such as in private and commercial road vehicles.
Changes in vehicle type and design will also be influenced by environmental considerations; witness the new vehicle types already being marketed by some of the major manufacturers, such as Mercedes, whose A-class vehicle represents a radical change in approach by the company. Two-wheeled vehicles, with their reduced fuel requirements and consequent emission levels, are already increasing in popularity, although probably not through any altruistic environmental reason. In the developed countries, the increasing sophistication of such vehicles has prompted a steady growth in the recreational market, and in the developing countries, the sales of two-wheeled vehicles are increasing rapidly in line with the increasing affluence and aspirations of the general communities.
Ford has invested a not insignificant £300 million into the development of a fuel cell-powered vehicle, together with Mercedes-Benz and the Canadian fuel cell pioneers Ballard Power Systems. The ability of the fuel cell to convert hydrogen or hydrogen-rich fuels directly into electricity, which can then be used for motive power, will have a profound effect upon the lubricant type and requirement volumes. Although Ford predicts that the vehicle will be available within seven years, one cannot help but recall similar predictions which were made by the same company for the Orbital Two-Stroke engine, development of which reached an advanced stage before being scrapped.
Also, Mazda has now unveiled an experimental prototype car, the Demio fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), the purpose of which is to evaluate driveability, control systems and fuel efficiency. A maximum speed of 90 km/hr is expected with a range of 170 km per full charge of hydrogen. The only emission will be water; carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide being completely absent.
Before evaluating the overall benefit arising from the use of such a power sources, however, the environmental impact arising from the production of the hydrogen fuel itself must also be taken into account. Manufacture of hydrogen is a relatively energy-intensive process, and the emissions arising as a result from hydrogen manufacture will offset the advantages of a fuel-cell vehicle to some extent at least.
Acquisition of Gulf Oil by Shell
The news release of 8 December by Shell UK came as no surprise to those in the industry who have been aware of the negotiations for some time. The acquisition of Gulf UK from its US parent, Chevron, will expand the Shell retail network and the commercial fuels and lubricants business. It is intended that the phase-out of the Gulf brand will progressively occur over the next 18 months or so, with completion scheduled some time in 1999. Shell UK has a licence to use the Gulf brand and most Gulf product brands for the next 18 months. This new move follows a series of such mergers involving a number of companies of late, where organisations strive to maintain competitiveness in a difficult market. An increasing polarisation of businesses appears to be developing, with the large organisations concentrating on the benefits of economies of scale, while the smaller organisations are concentrating on fast deliveries mainly in more localised areas.
Queries on lubricant and tribological issues
A suggestion has already been received that the journal could feature a questions and answers section. Your views are welcome, together with any queries.