The Inevitable Shift: The Rise of Electric Vehicles and Its Impact on the Lubricant Industry
The transition from diesel-powered off-highway vehicles to electric vehicles has begun gradually but is gaining momentum. In the next decade, equipment users can expect significant changes in their fleets as the industry moves towards new fuel alternatives. This shift will also have a profound impact on the lubricant and hydraulic fluid industry as companies adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented by the move to electric vehicles.
Battery-electric vehicles (BEV) are predicted to lead the way in this new fuel revolution. Sales of BEVs are expected to rise steadily, especially in vehicles such as trucks, forklifts, and mini excavators, which are already experiencing the development and launch of electrified versions. Electric vehicles have fewer moving parts, resulting in reduced lubrication requirements and decreased chances of breakdown or maintenance needs compared to diesel Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) machines. As companies transition their fleets from diesel to new fuel alternatives, they need to anticipate and prepare for these adjustments. This article will explore the changes happening in the oil and hydraulic fluid market, make predictions for the future, and assess the implications for lubricant manufacturers and their customers.
The days of diesel as the dominant vehicle fuel are numbered. The majority of new vehicle adoptions will be battery-electric, with some adoption of hydrogen internal combustion engine (H2ICE) and hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) vehicles, particularly for larger off-highway vehicles used in mining equipment and other heavy-duty applications. Although this shift is not happening overnight, the rapid uptake of battery-electric trucks and buses will reduce the demand for diesel fuel. By 2030, it is estimated that approximately 1% of trucks globally will be battery electric, rising to 7% by that same year.
While the transition towards electric vehicles in the off-highway market is taking longer, there is still progress being made. The variations between off-highway machines, which often require different components or designs, make large-scale production of electrified equipment more complex compared to trucks, which have more standardized designs and components. However, the off-highway market is slowly moving towards new fuel equipment. Material handling solutions like forklifts and aerial work platforms (AWPs) are leading the way in electrification due to their low duty cycles and ease of charging. Larger construction equipment, which is not easily powered by battery-electric technology, may be better suited for hydrogen ICE and other tailored fuel formulations in the long term. Additionally, equipment deployed in remote locations that lack charging infrastructure pose challenges for electrification.
Lubricant manufacturers are not oblivious to the clear trend towards electrification, particularly in the BEV segment. Some companies have already launched e-lubricant formulations on the market or have begun their development. When it comes to new fuel vehicles, a greater need for lubricants exists in hydrogen ICE vehicles, as their engines resemble conventional ICE engines more closely. This is an opportune time for oil and lubricant manufacturers, OEMs, and their customers to consider what these new formulations might entail and how to optimize the performance of electric, hydrogen, or biodiesel engines. Collaboration between lubricant manufacturers, OEMs, and new fuel engine makers could result in significant payoffs for those companies that successfully develop the right formulations. The market can expect a range of new lubricants and formulations designed specifically for zero-emission vehicles and their engines.
End users of equipment and lubricants, such as construction contractors, can anticipate few potential problems and many benefits from the switch to new fuel vehicles. One challenge for companies transitioning from diesel to battery-electric vehicles is the potential need for maintenance technicians to retrain. With some battery-electric and hydrogen-electric vehicles operating at high voltage, technicians responsible for fleet maintenance may require additional qualifications to legally perform their duties, depending on their location. Furthermore, working with radically different engines necessitates a different skill set. However, the significantly reduced maintenance demands of battery-electric and hydrogen-electric vehicles are a major advantage. Maintenance frequency, and consequently cost, decreases as there is no need for oil or filter changes. This increased uptime allows the machines to be used for longer periods, generating more revenue for end users.
Tailored e-lubricants can play a significant role in enhancing the efficiency of off-highway machines. These lubricants aim to improve the performance and longevity of moving parts. Some companies are already working on new formulations specifically for electric vehicles. Reducing friction and energy consumption is particularly crucial for new fuel vehicles to improve battery life or minimize refueling intervals. The future formulations of oil, lubricants, and hydraulic fluids are likely to prioritize these objectives.
Additionally, there are environmental benefits for companies operating battery-electric and new fuel vehicles beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Oil spills and hydraulic fluid leaks harm the environment and can damage a company’s reputation and profitability due to necessary cleanup efforts. With increasing demand for sustainable and environmentally-conscious products, lubricant companies have an opportunity to develop greener formulations. Indeed, products are already being developed for industries like forestry, where environmental impact is of significant concern.
The future will see a greater variety of formulations for a growing number of new fuel vehicles. The shift towards electric vehicles, both on and off-highway, is inevitable as legislation and incentives drive the adoption of zero-emission machines. While there is still time to prepare for these changes, manufacturers, including lubricant developers, must begin their preparations now to meet the market’s evolving needs. Equipment end users should remain aware of emerging trends and ensure they select the right formulations for oils, lubricants, and hydraulic fluids to maximize the performance and energy efficiency of their machines. By embracing these changes and adopting the most suitable lubricants, the industry can thrive in an increasingly electric future.