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Shell Concept Car Serves As Testbed for Cutting-Edge Lubricant Technologies

Written by  Naveen Arul | 05 May 2017 | Published in May 2017 ( Technology )

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Shell Lubricants has been in the business of oil and gas for over a century. The company's lubricants division is a major contributor, in terms of products and technologies, to the automotive and related sectors. And in line with the products it supplies, the company has also been actively working towards the development of more sustainable and clean mobility solutions, which offer a reduced carbon footprint and increased efficiency.

India is the third largest market in the world for lubricants, making it an important market for Shell, which recently inaugurated its new Technology Centre in Bangalore – the third such centre globally, in addition to the ones in The Netherlands and the US. The Shell Technology Centre Bangalore (STCB) is spread over a 52-acre campus, with space to house up to 1,500 engineers who will work on global energy projects. The STCB houses technical experts, laboratories and technology demonstration units, and will undertake development work related to a wide spectrum of technical disciplines.

We spoke to Erik Bonino, Executive Vice President Downstream Technology, Shell Global, and Mansi Madan Tripathy, Country Head, Shell Lubricants India about the new Technology Centre and the company's contribution to future mobility. Also present were Andrew Hepher, Vice President Technology, Shell, and Neeraj Bhatia, Chief Marketing Officer, Shell Lubricants India. Along with the inauguration of the Technology Centre, Shell also showcased its Project M Concept Car for the first time in India as part of its 'Make The Future Mobility' initiative.

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SHELL TECHNOLOGY CENTRE BANGALORE (STCB)

The STCB has specific expertise in the fields of liquefied natural gas, subsurface modelling, data analysis, engineering design, bitumen, distillation, water technology and enhanced computational research. The centre, which is also the company's Centre of Excellence for bio-fuels, is working exclusively on its IH2 waste to fuel technology, to turn forestry, agricultural and municipal waste into transportation fuel, with a new demonstration plant being built at the site. Shell's core purpose is more energy and cleaner energy, noted Bonino.

Shell has set up its technology centres with the aim of being both relevant for Shell globally, as well as for the geographic area they are situated in. In terms of global development, all of the Bitumen research and development for Shell globally is carried out at the STCB. With regards to being relevant to the region, the company is looking at bringing lubricant development capabilities to the technology centre, in the context of fine-tuning formulations for local markets.

Additionally, in the area of industrial applications, energy management systems is a core area that the technology centre works on, said Bonino. These systems help in addressing smart and digitally-enabled ways of optimally managing energy in a petro-chemical or cement factory, or any facility that has high energy use, in order to reduce total energy usage.

Bhatia observed that the India's two-wheeler market is one of the largest in the globe, and that is the space the company could look at addressing, with products from the STCB. Shell is currently said to be in collaboration with over 80 % of the OEMs in India, and it feels the future of mobility will be attained by carrying out co-engineering with OEMs.

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ROLE OF SHELL LUBRICANTS IN EFFICIENCY

Over the last 10 years, the contribution of lubricants to improved overall fuel efficiency is about 30 %, noted Bonino. That said, engines have seen major transformation over the last decade, in terms of becoming smaller, more compact and turbocharged, he said. Such engines also require better, more advanced lubricants for delivering maximum efficiency, he explained.

Tripathy said that the main role of the lubricant is in ensuring how clean the engine is left after burning the fuel, and that the offerings from Shell ensure that residual deposits of sulphur, soot and other materials are reduced dramatically, maintaining the cleanliness of the engine. This leads to a cascading effect on a number other developments. One of these is the ability to make thinner oils, which can be used in a range of temperatures from -50°C to +70°C.

Additionally, Bonino noted that engine manufacturers are always looking to make their engines more compact, and hence want an oil that not only serves the engine, but also the turbocharger. For this, Shell offers products that perform the required function in the engine as well as the turbocharger. "It's not only about fuel economy, the oil is now key for emission technologies," said Bonino. The current requirement is not only about getting more miles from the engine; it is also about getting fewer unwanted exhaust gases from the tailpipe.

SHELL PROJECT M CONCEPT CAR

The idea of the Shell Project M concept car was initiated and funded by Shell, with the entire development of the car taking about a year. This concept was globally revealed a year ago. The company identified two partners – Geo Technology and Gordon Murray Design – and set down the conditions for the development of its concept car. The primary conditions were that the vehicle must be capable of carrying people on real-world roads, while exceeding the 100 mpg fuel economy requirement, said Bonino.

Bonino noted that Gordon Murray, who believes in utility value, agreed on collaborating with Shell to translate the requirements into a real-world product. The engine used in the Project M concept car is a modified 660 cc, three-cylinder petrol engine from Mitsubishi, which is mated to an automated manual transmission (AMT). Geo Technology re-worked the engine in terms of what the lubricant performance could deliver, developing a power of about 43 hp and 64 Nm of torque. Bonino added that the engine also had to fulfil a particular power output requirement, which could help the car accelerate and cruise according to the weight and the overall configuration of the vehicle. Shell said the car has completed 4,800 km on test tracks and rolling roads, where it achieved a fuel economy of 38 km/l.

The three-seater concept car, with a central drive seat, weighs 550 kg and is claimed to use 34 % less energy over its entire lifetime when compared to a typical petrol-powered city car. The ultra-compact concept car uses a formulation of the Shell Helix Ultra with PurePlus Technology, and is said to have been designed using the best of present technology to deliver reductions in lifetime energy usage.

Notably, the Shell concept car is based on the T.25 city car from Gordon Murray Design. The body is made of carbonfibre honeycomb, with parts capable of being manufactured from recycled carbonfibre. The carbonfibre body ensures light weight, while also providing the vehicle with a high level of strength. Additionally, the chassis is made using iStream technology that helps minimise the cost of components. All the fluids that are required by the vehicle are supplied by Shell, from the engine oil, transmission and cooling fluids etc.

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WHY NOT HYBRID OR ELECTRIC?

While hybrid and electric power are important trends in the automobile space, the mainstream energy for mobility, especially in India, will be fossil fuel for a long time to come, said Tripathy. She added that this is the reason the concept car has a petrol engine, where the company wants to ensure that it is investing in an area that has immediate application possibilities.

Bonino said that the concept of 'from the well to the wheel,' which covers energy source during the complete lifecycle of a vehicle, is what's important. He added that it's difficult to predict how technologies like hybrid, pure electric or hydrogen fuel cell would do in the automobile market. However, it's sure that there will be mixed solutions, where the internal combustion engine will have a relevant part to play in a way that is sustainable and environmentally-acceptable, Bonino observed.

Bonino provided further details on the overall carbon footprint of the Shell M concept car. He said that the energy used in manufacturing and running the concept car for 100,000 km is the same energy required to manufacture a typical SUV and deliver it to the showroom in UK. One needs to look at the overall envelope of total energy consumption achieved, which this vehicle offers. Hepher said that in addition to its low carbon footprint during its entire lifecycle, the vehicle is almost completely recyclable, adding to sustainability.

CONCLUSION

Hepher noted that while the Shell concept car may never be seen on the road as it is, a number of solutions it's helped develop will be seen on other road vehicles. An example of this is that the project car has helped Shell re-formulate its ultra-thin oils that will be launched in the Indian market, he said. Tripathy also said that the company is actively co-engineering with OEMs on their various requirements that will increase the efficiency of their vehicles in the near future.

TEXT: Naveen Arul

PHOTO: Shell

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