20 Minutes With Dr. Tom Dietz

Karl M. Phipps, Managing Editor | TLT 20 Minutes February 2011

This ExxonMobil researcher offers his thoughts on how improving energy efficiencies are impacting the lubricants industry.

TOM DIETZ - The Quick File
Doctorate, Chemistry – Rice University (1982)
Bachelor’s of Science, Chemistry – University of Delaware (1977)

Work experience
ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, Fairfax, Va. (August 2010 to Present)
Distinguished Research Associate – Research Guidance, Lubricants
ExxonMobil Lubricants and Specialties, Fairfax, Va. (2000)
Americas Technical Manager
Global Industrial Lubricants Manager
Exxon Co. USA, Houston, Texas (1994)
Additive Rationalization Project Lead
Paper and Textile Lubricants Sales Manager
Exxon Research and Engineering – Products Research Division, Linden, N.J. (1988)
Industrial Lubricants Group Leader
Industrial Lubricants Section Head
Gasoline Quality Section Head
Exxon Co. USA, Houston, Texas (1985)
Marketing Technical Advisor – Industrial Lubricants
Exxon Research and Engineering – Products Research Division, Linden, N.J. (1981)
Base Stocks Research
Industrial Lubricants Research

Tom Dietz

TLT: In your nearly 30-year career, how many years have you spent in lubricant development and formulation?
I have spent the majority of my career with ExxonMobil involved in lubricant research, development and formulation. I also spent several years involved with motor gasoline development and additive development. Over the course of my career, I have served numerous roles such as researcher in basestock and finished lubricant development and industrial lubricants, business technical advisor, sales and marketing, as well as multiple technical management roles focused on new product development and product line management.

Primarily my work has been focused on the U.S. markets, but in the last decade my responsibilities have been expanding internationally to address global lubricant market needs.

My greatest expertise and passion is in the area of industrial lubricants and greases. This area covers a wide range of applications and products. I have had the good fortune to play an integral role in shaping the market-leading products ExxonMobil offers to the industrial marketplace, highlighted by our flagship Mobil SHC brand of synthetic oils and greases.

Today, the Mobil SHC family of high-performance synthetic lubricants is approved for use in more than 10,000 applications. In addition, Mobil SHC lubricants have exclusive/preferential endorsements from leading OEMs for more than 2,200 applications that span a wide range of industries.

With my research and technology background, new lubricant product development has always been a passion of mine. That’s why the successful launches of new product technologies such as the latest generation of Mobil SHC synthetic lubricants always top my list of career highlights.

TLT: What’s your typical work day like?
In my prior role as the Global industrial Products-Technical Manager for the team behind Mobil Industrial Lubricants, a typical day would involve participating in meetings and teleconferences with colleagues across all major functions of the lubricants business.

Along with reviewing long- and short-term research objectives, other essential parts of my role included planning for new product launches, coordinating and overseeing results from the field and proof of performance testing for new products, manufacturing and supply chain.

With the global nature of my responsibilities, these discussions often span to multiple continents and time zones, which has given me the opportunity to work side-by-side with colleagues from around the world who are part of ExxonMobil’s Equipment Builder Group.

Over the past year, I have transitioned into my current role in research guidance. While it is slightly different than my previous role, my current position allows me to leverage much of the experience I have garnered during my career by each day having the opportunity to help shape ExxonMobil’s future lubricants business for many years, and hopefully decades, to come.

TLT: In your career, what do you think are the biggest changes you have seen in the industry? How have these changes impacted you and your team’s approach to developing lubricants?
The two biggest changes I’ve seen are the globalization of the lubricants business and the growth of synthetic lubricants.

When I first started in the lubricants business, the focus was very local and country specific. For example, mineral basestocks often were produced from very limited crude slates, and crude approvals were often managed on a plant-by-plant basis.

Over the years ExxonMobil has become much more sophisticated in our crude-approval processes, and lubricant basestock manufacturing has become much more controlled and standardized. Finished product formulations often varied from country to country due to basestock quality or additive supply differences.

As processes became more standardized and quality improved, organizations became more regional and global in their focus. As a result, new opportunities emerged that enabled ExxonMobil to transfer the best formulation approaches and efficiencies from one region to another.

ExxonMobil’s ability to deliver products anywhere around the globe that feature the same high-level quality and Consistency has certainly opened up new opportunities and played a key role in driving customer demand for ExxonMobil products.

Another big change in the industrial marketplace is that we now see much broader use of synthetic lubricants and the increased recognition of their advantages compared to conventional mineral oils. This has been pushed by a number of fundamental drivers—the most important being how Industrial equipment has over the past 10 years became more sophisticated and technologically advanced.

As a company that helped pioneer the field of synthetic lubrication technology, ExxonMobil continues to be a leader in helping customers maximize the productivity of their most advanced equipment through the use of expertly formulated synthetic lubricants, like those from the Mobil SHC family.

TLT: What was the tipping point for when the value of synthetics really began to be recognized by the broader global industrial marketplace?
There has not been a clear tipping point for the use of synthetics but, rather, a steady pace of increasing acceptance. This has been pushed by a number of fundamental drivers, the most important one being equipment design changes. Over the years, we have seen equipment designs getting smaller and more compact while energy throughput has increased.

These higher energy density designs typically feature smaller sump sizes and higher temperatures. In addition to these extreme conditions, lubricant life is further challenged in these new designs because leakage rates are typically lower, so less lubricant has to last longer. Finally, as the needs for energy efficiency have accelerated, lower viscosity lubricants are increasingly desired, putting a premium on low volatility and outstanding wear protection performance. As equipment builders push their designs and tolerances closer to the limits, they have to start looking to advanced lubricants to survive the harsher working environments their designs create. Lubricant customers are also seeking additional performance from lubricants.

Industrial competiveness has forced end-users to seek an extra edge through the improved productivity that a synthetic can offer. Vehicle owners seek continual improvement in fuel efficiency for the multitude of engines and equipment that move people and goods around our planet. And even if we choose to ignore these trends as individuals, government-mandated fuel economy improvements are driving significant changes to the industrial equipment and vehicles in today’s market.

Finally, to protect our scarce natural resources, we are increasingly finding ourselves looking for lubricant solutions that last longer. In an increasing number of situations, high-performance synthetic lubricants are the preferred solution. Of course, the higher costs of synthetics have been a barrier.

However, sophisticated lubricant users look at the total cost of a lubricant over the lifecycle of their equipment rather than just the initial purchase price of an oil.

While synthetics have a higher initial purchase price, their total cost of ownership is significantly reduced by the longer life, lower maintenance costs and, in many cases, improved energy efficiency in comparison to its conventional mineral oil competitors.

An excellent example of this type of total cost of ownership analysis is illustrated with ExxonMobil’s recent experience with the new synthetic energy efficient natural gas engine oil, Mobil SHC Pegasus.

For decades the conventional choice for gas engine lubrication has been straight SAE 40 engine oils with typical drain intervals between 2,000–4,000 hours. Recognizing the potential for lower viscosity lubricants to improve the energy efficiency, we embarked on a multiyear program to develop a synthetic oil with a lower viscosity, energy efficiency benefits and significantly longer drain intervals with no loss in engine durability.

The result was Mobil SHC Pegasus, a new lower viscosity, fully synthetic gas engine oil which, in independent university laboratory testing and statistically validated field tests, demonstrated up to 2% energy efficiency improvement over the conventional oil SAE 40.

During one of our most extensive field trials, we tracked the performance of Mobil SHC Pegasus over a period of two years and over 16,000 hours of operation under demanding conditions. After more than 16,000 hours of service using one fill of Mobil SHC Pegasus, which is nearly four times the drain interval for a conventional oil, the gas engine tested demonstrated exceptional cleanliness and showed minimal wear.

Since new product development is an area that i am extremely passionate about, one of our customers was pleased to see the results and how the performance of Mobil SHC Pegasus exceeded his expectations.

In this situation, the total cost of ownership analysis shows a clear economic benefit vs. conventional oil. The case was so compelling that ExxonMobil is starting to use Mobil SHC Pegasus in gas engines owned and operated by ExxonMobil in its own gas production facilities. The bottom line on Mobil SHC Pegasus is that it helps deliver less oil consumption, minimal maintenance effort, reduced fuel consumption, less CO2 emitted to the atmosphere and lower lifecycle lubrication costs.

TLT: How do the demands for enhanced energy efficiency impact the lubricant development process?
The demand for enhanced energy efficiency will be an ongoing industry concern for the foreseeable future. The big challenge is a lack of standardized industry protocols for consistent and accurate measurements of energy efficiency.

For example, measuring energy efficiency resulting from a lubricant is inherently difficult. Typical ranges of improvement are a few percent at best and is derived from the difference between two very large numbers, the output work from a piece of equipment using lubricant A minus the output work from a piece of equipment using lubricant B.

The challenge is that we must control many variables while measuring energy efficiency to get a statistically valid result with acceptable precision. Some of the key experimental variables are fuel energy content, equipment factors (speed, load), operator influences, carryover and break-in effects, ambient temperature and humidity.

Further complicating the analysis is the multitude of equipment design variations that can make the extrapolation of efficiency benefit from one application to another extremely challenging.

Nonetheless, carefully controlled experiments can and have demonstrated lubricant energy efficiency.

It is very important, as the industry moves forward, that we work together to put in place rigorous standards around how to properly conduct these energy-efficiency demonstrations based on sound science principles. Otherwise, valid lubricant efficiency claims will be lost in the noise of highly variable testing protocols.

ExxonMobil devotes considerable resources to ensure that its test methods and associated energy efficiency claims are substantiated with statistically significant data from controlled experiments.

TLT: What do you think will be the most significant changes impacting the industrial marketplace 10 years down the line? What will be the same?
It is clear to me that the needs for lubricant fuel economy and energy efficiency will be important issues for years to come. This realization comes from looking at global energy outlooks in the longer term. For example, the ExxonMobil Energy Outlook indicates that energy savings is an important factor in the overall balance for global energy supply and demand. The accompanying chart illustrates that significant growth in energy demand is predicted by 2030 for all global energy sectors.

However, improving efficiencies from many sources will be required to balance the energy demand equation. Some of this will be equipment design changes, but some of it will be lubricant- derived energy efficiencies. Lubricants will need to evolve in any case if we are to meet our overall energy needs.

I also expect the pressure for lubricants to keep up with evolving equipment design trends will only accelerate.

(Source: ExxonMobil Energy Outlook, 2009)

Our customers’ need for improved productivity will continue to increase, and equipment builders will continue to evolve designs to keep pace with these needs. Our challenge, as an industry, is to participate in this progression by building innovative, new lubricant technologies that will enhance the next steps in this evolution.

ExxonMobil is clearly committed to this objective and has a strong technology program focused on lubricant research and development that will drive the formulation of many new lubricant breakthrough products.

You can reach Tom Dietz at thomas.g.dietz@exxonmobil.com.