Base oils are used to manufacture products including lubricating greases, motor oil and metal processing fluids. Different products require different compositions and properties in the oil. One of the most important factors is the liquid’s viscosity at various temperatures. Whether or not a crude oil is suitable to be made into a base oil is determined by the concentration of base oil molecules as well as how easily these can be extracted.
Base oil is produced by means of refining crude oil. This means that crude oil is heated in order that various distillates can be separated from one another. During the heating process, light and heavy hydrocarbons are separated – the light ones can be refined to make petrol and other fuels, while the heavier ones are suitable for bitumen and base oils.
Almost every lubricant used in plants today started off as just a base oil. The American Petroleum Institute (API) has categorized base oils into five categories (API 1509, Appendix E). The first three groups are refined from petroleum crude oil. Group IV base oils are fully synthetic (polyalphaolefin) oils. Group V is for all other base oils not included in Groups I toIV. Before all the additives are added to the mixture, lubricating oils begin as one or more of these five API groups.
Group I base oils are classified as less than 90 percent saturates, greater than 0.03 percent sulfur and with a viscosity-index range of 80 to 120. The temperature range for these oils is from 32 to 150 °F. Group I base oils are solvent-refined, which is a simpler refining process.
Group II base oils are defined as being more than 90 percent saturates, less than 0.03 percent sulfur and with a viscosity index of 80 to 120. They are often manufactured by hydrocracking, which is a more complex process than what is used for Group I base oils. Since all the hydrocarbon molecules of these oils are saturated, Group II base oils have better antioxidation properties. They also have a clearer color and cost more in comparison to Group I base oils. Still, Group II base oils are becoming very common in the market.
Group III base oils are greater than 90 percent saturates, less than 0.03 percent sulfur and have a viscosity index above 120. These oils are refined even more than Group II base oils and generally are severely hydrocracked (higher pressure and heat). This longer process is designed to achieve a purer base oil. Although made from crude oil, Group III base oils are sometimes described as synthesized hydrocarbons. Like Group II base oils, these oils are also becoming more prevalent.
Group IV base oils are polyalphaolefins (PAOs). These synthetic base oils are made through a process called synthesizing. They have a much broader temperature range and are great for use in extreme cold conditions and high heat applications.
Group V base oils are classified as all other base oils, including silicone, phosphate ester, polyalkylene glycol (PAG), polyolester, biolubes, etc. These base oils are at times mixed with other base stocks to enhance the oil’s properties. An example would be a PAO-based compressor oil that is mixed with a polyolester.