For the global automotive industry, disruption has become a buzzword what with electrification, connectivity, autonomous and alternative fuels, among global megatrends, creating a cloud of challenges but also opportunities. Nevertheless, while staying cued into future trends is a wise move to remain relevant in a disruptive era, new technology development aimed at present generation of vehicles has its own importance.
Now, Nexcel, the UK-based start-up born of a Castrol internal innovation project in October 2015, aims to create a thriving, global business that brings a game-changing new technology to the market – reinventing the way engines are lubricated to make them cleaner, greener and significantly easier to maintain.
At present, the company has over 50 experts who include mechanical engineers, lubricant specialists, electronics, automotive and supply chain experts working around the globe including in Japan and the USA.
David Goosey, MD, Nexcel: "We are investing in businesses and technologies that can address challenges for our customers."
"Nexcel was created from an internal programme to look beyond the core business. We took some of our people and also brought in some external expertise to see what the future could look like, not just in automotive but in wind, shipping and industrial business too. What are the demands that our customers are going to place on us in the future and how do we respond? This is a long-term game," says David Goosey, managing director, Nexcel, who was recently visiting Mumbai.
Sharing his views on the major trends in the automotive industry, Goosey says, "For me, there are three big challenges faced by the industry, and they are both challenges and also really exciting opportunities. The first one is circled around the environment, and the constant pressure to reduce CO2 emissions and particulate emissions. The second one is about mobility. Five-years ago,did we even use that word?"
"Now we are all talking about mobility, about the movement of people, particularly in cities like Mumbai where space and time are important.How does everybody get access to transport without having to buy a vehicle? This is going to transform the way the industry operates. And the third one we see as a growing conversation all over the world is that we are becoming more and more concerned about the environment. Not just carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases, but waste packaging and waste in general and how can we as an industry, an oil industry and automotive industry, reduce the impact that we are having on the environment?"
Saving time, wastage and emissions
The Nexcel oil cell system is a sealed unit that comes complete with high-quality oil, an integrated oil filter and an electronic tag to ensure the right match for every engine. The cell is first installed in the engine bay during vehicle production, using leak-free, instant connections. It fits on the engine using a dock that is integrated into the engine design and employs an electronic ‘handshake’ to ensure that each engine receives exactly the right oil specification.
Interestingly, the Nexcel ecosystem is designed as a closed-loop supply chain. So after every quick and efficient oil change – when the service centre fits a fresh Nexcel cell – the used cell is collected, recycled and reused, a process that includes the used oil being re-refined.
In terms of benefits, the system promises to cut down on the time taken as the removable oil cell enables technicians to perform clean and simple oil and filter changes in around 90 seconds; the conventional process can take up to 20 minutes or more on complex engines.
This promises significant time savings for service specialists, allowing expensive workshop facilities and skilled technicians to be dedicated to more profitable tasks.
Secondly, the company estimates that only around 60 percent of the used engine oil that is properly collected is currently re-refined. It says the company's closed-loop supply chain ecosystem ensures that 100 percent of used oil can be recycled. It does so by completely isolating the engine oil: from when it is first filled into a Nexcel cell, through to fitting at the engine factory or service centre, all the way through to after-service collection and re-refining into high-quality base oil. In addition to this, the oil cells are reusable, minimising the use of virgin materials and largely eliminating packaging waste.
The Nexcel oil cell system is a sealed unit that comes with high-quality oil designed specifically for the vehicle model. The digital handshake ensures each vehicle receives the right oil made for it.
Additionally, the Nexcel system allows engines to operate using the minimum oil volume in the oil pan – with ‘top-up’ oil held within the cell. This, the company says, enables faster engine warm-up and therefore reduced CO2 emissions. The ability to ensure that the correct oil is always matched to the engine allows bespoke oil formulations to be fully exploited: reducing engine frictional losses and hence reducing CO2 emissions.
Finally, Nexcel says it can also boost the oil’s additive content and preserve the effectiveness of the bespoke new lubricants. Company tests indicate that its system will be able to reduce CO2 by 2g per kilometre, which could amount to a total reduction that's equivalent to a third of the car’s weight over its lifetime.
Goosey says, "We (BP and Castrol) are investing in new businesses and technologies that we believe can help our customers address these challenges and turn them into opportunities."
Working with OEMs
In terms of adopting the Nexcel system, the company claims that for an OEM to incorporate the solution in its vehicle will require just a fraction of the cost of vehicle development. Additionally, the system (Nexcel) can help reduce the amount of oil that an engine requires, and make oil pans smaller.
"Depending upon the vehicle, there is potential to reduce the amount of oil. Then, because of the way we can do the formulation, there’s an opportunity either to reduce the cost of the oil but keep the oil drainage the same, or potentially extend the oil drain a little longer. And that is a conversation we’d have with an OEM or a car manufacturer to decide which way do they want to go," explains Goosey.
At present, the company is working with around more than "half-a-dozen" OEMs across the world including Aston Martin. "We have got development programs underway with OEMs in Japan, in Europe and in America. They are all under confidentiality agreements. It is for OEMs to evaluate the technology, understand the benefits, understand what's important to them and consider integrating it into future vehicle design."
The company expects the first full-scale production application of the technology to be in place by 2020 in the off-road segment, and 2024 for application in passenger cars.
BS VI and India opportunity
Every stakeholder across the automotive supply chain wants to have a footprint and more in India, which is tipped to drive past Japan to become the world's third largest automobile market by 2021. With India Auto Inc already working towards meeting the BS VI emission norms in 2020 and Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) norms by 2022, the country offers a good platform for new technology which can enable cleaner motoring.
According to Goosey, while Nexcel technology may look futuristic, it is important to start working with OEMs today compared to working with an OEM after three to four years which will lead to a further delay (in adopting new technologies).
Nexcel says the system is an effective solution for engine designers aiming to reduce CO2 emissions in both hybrids and pure internal combustion vehicles.
According to the company, the anticipated cost for each gram of CO2 saved with Nexcel is around 42 euros (Rs 3,506), similar to the cost per gram of CO2 for a micro-hybrid (stop-start plus regenerative braking) and approximately half the cost per gram for one of the most popular new technology strategies — a mild hybrid system.
Responding to a query on working with Indian OEMs in their BS VI journey, Goosey has a query: "Potentially yes, but then is it going to stop at BS VI?"
"Our goal is to make Nexcel an industry standard, a mass-market business rather than a niche application. So it needs scale. I don’t want to sound arrogant but our goal is to be present in all the major markets in the world. We would like to have applications with a vast majority of the major vehicle manufacturers, particularly in passenger car and light commercial vehicles, and there are potential applications beyond that. We see it as a viable business," says Goosey.
The company says the reduction in downtime on the back of servicing of the oil and filter change, makes it a viable business case for the passenger car and LCV segments.
Commenting on the impact of electric mobility on Nexcel's business, Goosey says that while electric mobility will be an important contributor to reduce environmental impact, the complete shift towards EVs will take time. He points out that by the year 2030, around 75 percent of new vehicles manufactured globally will still have an internal combustion engine, albeit many of them hybrid. This translates into a big opportunity for Nexcel to support the transition to electrification.
Interestingly, while the company is looking at working with Indian OEMs, he doesn't rule out the future prospect of setting up a hub in the country. Goosey says, "Quite a number of our engineers and supply chain team (members) are Indian and based in the UK. It’s a very diverse team; we have people in our team from all over the world. But yes, there is no reason why India would not be an opportunity. A number of mechanical engineers qualify in India every year, that itself is a huge opportunity."
"Our vision for Nexcel is for it to be a global business and it’s a future business. It would be crazy if India wasn’t part of our thinking for the future," signs off Goosey on a confident note.
(This article was first published in the November 1, 2018 issue of Autocar Professional)