US demand to increase 6% annually through 2018
US demand for synthetic lubricants and functional fluids is forecast to increase 6.0 percent per annum to $6.2 billion in 2018, with volume rising to 550 million gallons. Synthetic products will continue to grow at the expense of conventional fluids, with rising market penetration driven by environmental concerns and increasingly demanding requirements for product performance. Each market segment for synthetics will be subject to a unique set of factors influencing future demand. In some cases, government regulations and manufacturer and industry groups will specify the usage of synthetic products, while in others end user preferences for the benefits of synthetics will boost demand.
Engine oils to account for largest share of new growth
Engine oils will account for the largest share of growth through 2018. In the light vehicle market, synthetic engine oils will benefit from lubricant specifications in new cars that will increasingly call for lower viscosity motor oils, often necessitating the use of synthetics. General Motors’ DEXOS1 specification, along with the requirement for SAE 0W-20 motor oils in most new Honda and Toyota vehicles, will be especially important in increasing synthetics’ market share. The upcoming introduction of the ILSAC GF-6 specification will further encourage synthetics’ use. Synthetics will also begin to see wider use in the heavy-duty and off-highway segments, based on the improved fuel efficiency and extended maintenance intervals that synthetics offer. Transmission and hydraulic fluids will be the fastest growing category, benefiting from many similar factors as engine oils. The impact of increasingly demanding equipment specifications and the ability to improve energy efficiency will be key driving factors for these fluids. Synthetic metalworking fluids and dielectric fluids will continue to be used where they can provide worker safety or environmental benefits, or meet a specific performance requirement, although these markets -- along with heat transfer fluids and antifreeze -- all tend to be more mature and grow more slowly.
Group III base oil to remain fastest growing material
Group III base oil will remain the fastest growing material in synthetic lubricants in value terms. Along with rising global capacity for conventional Group III base oil production, the increasing availability of gas-to-liquids (GTL) basestocks will also support gains. Production of GTL base oils, which are considered a premium synthetic product, is expected to expand in the US during the forecast period. Nonetheless, polyalphaolefins, which have grown only modestly in recent years due to competition from Group III base oil, will accelerate as they enjoy greater use in industrial lubricant markets. Specialty ester-based lubricants, which hold a significant share in key niche markets, will grow at an above average pace as well.
The energy and power generation, automotive equipment, and industrial machinery markets will all present growth opportunities for synthetics. In power generation, niche and emerging applications -- for example, synthetic turbine oils, heat transfer fluids for concentrated solar power, and wind turbine gear oils -- will boost growth. In automotive equipment and industrial machinery, in contrast, growth will be broad based, resulting from steady gains in market size paired with increasing penetration of synthetics.