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Natural gas is playing an increasingly vital role in satisfying the world’s energy needs and acting as a bridge to low carbon. But using natural gas to generate reliable power is not without its challenges. Natural-gas-fuelled piston engines often operate in remote locations and extreme climates. Meanwhile, elevated operating temperatures and pressures, compounded by fuel contaminants, make preventative maintenance and effective lubrication even more critical.

Managing these challenges is tough enough when an industry stands still. However, with technology and environmental legislation evolving at speed, it’s vital that OEMs and lubrication companies work in lockstep to help operators reach new heights of equipment reliability and productivity – both for the engines of today and for the dual-fuel or hydrogen-powered engines of tomorrow.

A catalyst for innovation

As innovative engines operate at increasing pressures and temperatures, traditional engine oils often suffer, reducing oil drain intervals, uptime and power output. This has driven OEMs to search for advanced lubricants, formulated to meet the challenge of today’s high-output engines while facilitating longer oil drain intervals. At ExxonMobil, for example, more than five decades of collaboration with leading OEMs has kept the Mobil Pegasus range at the forefront of gas engine oil innovation, extending oil drain intervals while delivering unparalleled anti-wear performance. Oils like these can provide multiple in-use benefits, including reduced maintenance costs, oil consumption and human-machine exposure.

The power of two

With engine oil performance so integral to power plant reliability, OEMs require long-term lubrication collaborations to work on solutions for cleaner, more powerful, and more efficient engines. ExxonMobil’s cooperation with the Jenbacher team, which began in the 1990s, has deepened over time.

In 2020, we announced a long-term collaboration agreement for INNIO’s Jenbacher Type 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9 engines. This has resulted in the co-development of a range of high-performance lubrication solutions that help customers improve their operational reliability, productivity, profitability, and sustainability.

Co-engineered for confidence

This agreement led to the introduction of our first co-engineered gas engine oil, Jenbacher N Oil 40 – a high-performance, long-life lubricant. The latest operational data from the Jenbacher engine fleet demonstrates this oil’s advanced performance, with more than 8 million hours of operation, and proves its ability to extend oil drain intervals by as much as two times.

In an early adopter engine, where the oil has been in use for over 42,000 hours, oil drain intervals of up to 7000 hours have been achieved. This technology allows operators to rely on extended oil-condemning limits without compromising the protection of critical engine parts, helping to reduce total life cycle costs by up to 30%.

Fuelling the future

Our collaboration with INNIO’s Jenbacher team has always been driven by a shared desire to innovate. As the Jenbacher team works on new technologies to empower communities and industries on their way to net-zero, this collaboration has expanded to include solutions for hydrogen engines, enabling future solutions that are available today.

Both companies recently conducted a joint research and development programme together with the Large Engines Competence Center (LEC). The group’s findings were summarised in a paper – “Development of lubricants for hydrogen-fueled large engine power plants” – which was selected to be presented at the 2023 CIMAC Congress in South Korea in June 2023.

Currently, Jenbacher engines have the potential to operate on a broad range of energy sources, from pipeline gas to hydrogen. However, due to hydrogen’s different combustion properties – including a wider flammability range and lower ignition energy – it requires tailored lubrication solutions.

As part of our co-operation, ExxonMobil has developed a new high-performance engine oil to enable more controlled hydrogen combustion at higher loads. This technology has been through a dedicated lubricant screener test on several of Jenbacher single-cylinder and multi-cylinder engines. As a result, the lubricant technology platform has been proven to meet the performance requirements of current and next-generation Jenbacher high-power output engines, including hydrogen engines.

Unlocking progress, together

As the energy transition continues to accelerate, it’s critical that engine OEMs, lubrication companies and other suppliers can respond rapidly and flexibly to changing customer needs and environmental regulations. These considerations were built in from the outset in the ExxonMobil-INNIO relationship, all fuelled by a mutual commitment to help operators reach new performance levels both today and tomorrow.

This article first appeared in Modern Power Systems magazine.