What is PC-12 Engine Oil – And How Will It Impact Construction Equipment?

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Updated Jan 29, 2024

Stricter emissions standards are coming in 2027, and with those will come new heavy duty oil categories. PC-12 is the American Petroleum Institute’s new “proposed category” for heavy duty engine oil performance.

And although we’re a few years away from seeing PC-12 in the field, manufacturers, oil providers and additive suppliers are already working to define the requirements for the next generation of oils.

To meet the new, stricter emission requirements, engine manufacturers must cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 75% and particulate matter by 50%. At the same time, the EPA is phasing in stricter greenhouse gas emission standards and mandating that aftertreatment systems have an increase in service life.

On this episode of The Dirt, Shawn Whitacre, senior staff engineer – engine oil technology at Chevron, joins host Bryan Furnace to answer the following questions:

  • What is PC-12?
  • How will PC-12 impact construction contractors in the field?
  • Does lowering phosphorous levels take the sulfur out of diesel?
  • Will PC-12 be backward compatible with older heavy equipment?
  • And will PC-12 change preventative maintenance routines?

If you plan on buying new equipment in 2027, it will be subject to the new emissions mandates. This episode is a must-watch for fleet managers and equipment owners trying to get ahead of equipment disposition cycles.

Equipment World serves up weekly videos on the latest in construction equipment, work trucks and pickup trucks—everything contractors need to get their work done. Subscribe and visit us at equipmentworld.com!

In This Episode:

00:00 - PC-12 Updates & Overview

00:40 - What Is PC-12?

01:58 - How a New Engine Oil Is Made

03:00 - How Will PC-12 Impact Contractors in the Field?

04:30 - Lower Phosphorous Levels in PC-12

09:57 - Is Lowering Phosphorous Levels Like Taking the Sulfur Out of Diesel?

11:37 - Will PC-12 Be Backwards Compatible With Older Equipment?

13:29 - Will PC-12 Change Preventative Maintenance Routines?

15:44 - PC-12: More Updates to Come 16:29 - Final Thoughts


Bryan Furnace (00:00):

Chevron Delo is announcing a break with convention, giving you even more reasons to choose Delo.


Hi everybody. Welcome back to Equipment World. You're watching the Dirt. I'm your host Bryan, and today we're here to talk about PC-12 again. If you don't know what PC-12 is, you're not alone. In fact, if you're not in the oil industry, you probably don't know what PC-12 is. But today we're going to break that down as to what it is and how it's going to impact us out in the field in the dirt world. So without further ado, I'm going to turn this interview over to Shawn Whitacre with Chevron.


Well, Shawn, thank you so much for being on the show yet again, it's good to see your friendly face yet again on the show.

Shawn Whitacre (00:45):

Hey, always great to be here and thanks for having me.

Bryan Furnace (00:48):

Yeah, absolutely. So just for beginners, I know there's a lot of us in the industry that still don't really grasp what PC-12 is and what the Cs even has to do with our engine oil. Can you kind of just give us that high level breakdown?

Shawn Whitacre (01:03):

Yeah. PC-12 kind of represents what we call engine oil performance categories while they're in development. So PC literally stands for Proposed Category, and the 12 is just the 12th time we've done this. A large majority of the time, these categories turn into legitimate performance specs, and we certainly expect that to be the case with this one. So the last one was PC-11, and that became what we now know today as API CK-4 and API FA-4. And logically PC-12 undoubtedly will lead to CL-4 and FP-4.


These are API performance specs. They're sort of the rules of the game in my world. It's the long list of requirements that we have to meet to qualify in oil and kind of validate that it will perform the way engine builders and end users expect.

Bryan Furnace (01:57):

So just so I'm understanding this correctly, PC-12 is a proposed category, meaning that it has not yet taken effect, but it's something that we're kind of all gearing up for.

Shawn Whitacre (02:09):

Yeah. So in our world, it's a very collaborative process. So people like me representing an oil marketer, and I have other stakeholder groups that represent the additive companies, which are really providing the building blocks that I utilize to make finished products, as well as engine builders, base oil suppliers, testing labs... All of them participate in this process whereby we define the requirements, and that's what we've spent most of the last couple of years doing is understanding what engine builders need, what they're foreseeing in terms of changes that will happen to engines in the coming years... Because many of them are reacting to new emission standards that will require them to make changes to hardware and that'll undoubtedly require changes to the fluids that lubricate them.

Bryan Furnace (02:59):

Gotcha. So to kind of break it down to a granular level, what does this mean for us in the dirt world? How is that going to impact us out in the field?

Shawn Whitacre (03:08):

Well, our commitment to you is to make sure that your listeners, readers, viewers are ahead of the game, and I'd say in reality, probably nothing to be worried about, certainly at this point. And most of the changes that we're kind of contemplating, I think will be a win-win for the end user.


This new category, we have a first license date, which means that we'll be sort of legitimately commercial in the early part of 2027. So we're still a few years away from that. So you won't necessarily expect changes to products to come until probably the 2026 timeframe.


And some of the things that are going to change with engine oils when we get there, of course, the specs themselves. So what you see in that API donut where it says CK-4 today, you'll see something like CL-4, and as we've always talked, that really just provides the base level of performance, really, that many of the OEMs kind of build off of that and introduce their own specifications, which up the ante in performance. It may include very specific hardware tests or compatibility tests that are relevant to their particular engines and equipment. And so we expect, as been in the case many times in the past, that these OEM standards will also evolve along with PC-12.

Bryan Furnace (04:30):

So I was doing a little bit of reading the other day, and it looks like one of the things that's going to happen with PC-12 is some lowering of the phosphorus levels within the oil. I'm totally ignorant as to what exactly phosphorus does, but it seems to me if we've had this thing in the formulation over time and now we're removing a lot of it out of the formulation, that's going to have an impact. Is this something that we need to be concerned about? Is it something that we've got to change or what does that mean for us in the field?


But before we get into that, I want to take a second to tell you about the sponsor of this video, Chevron Lubricants. These past few years have been less than easy. We've encountered challenges we never imagined we'd ever have to deal with from makeshift home offices and video meetings to global supply chain uncertainty, price instability, market disruptions, and everything in between. Delivering the level of services and products our customers had come to expect was difficult for all of us. We can't change what's behind us, but we can definitely learn from it. We can adapt, evolve, and take steps to reset our thinking, adapt our strategies, and restore your trust in us to better meet your needs ,now and in the future. That change begins today.


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Our break with convention optimizes the Delo lineup to allow you to provide your customers with the best synthetic blend and synthetic heavy duty engine oils in the market, fully available at prices you can rely on. It's your assurance that you'll be well positioned to be their trusted source for proven engine protection that keeps equipment on the job giving your customers even more reasons to choose Delo.


Is this something that we need to be concerned about? Is it something that we've got to change or what does that mean for us in the field?

Shawn Whitacre (06:50):

Yeah, it's a great question, because it is something that gets quite a bit of attention. So phosphorus has been under the microscope for many years and partly because, depending on how much phosphorus is in the oil and how much oil consumption there is, the phosphorus and other what we call catalyst poisons can end up in the emission control system and kind of impair their performance. And so just like we've seen in passenger car motor oils for many years, there've been constraints on phosphorus to protect three-way catalysts, where we've been facing those same constraints for heavy-duty motor oils since 2007, which is the first point in time you saw emission control systems in diesel engines.


Phosphorus largely is derived from what we call ZDDP or zinc dialkyldithiophosphate. That's a very traditional anti-wear agent that is very robust and utilized in almost all heavy-duty engine oils to provide wear control performance, oxidative control. But there are many other components that are utilized in engine oils and other sort of alternatives that can help bridge the gap between what we used to count on exclusively from ZDDP and can kind of balance performance using other non-phosphorus containing additives.


Phosphorus levels themselves are in scope for this new category because many on-highway engine builders are going to be faced with more stringent nitrogen oxide standards in 2027. So where there have been constrained for many years, the new standards are 75% or more stringent than they are today. But not only that, they're going to be facing longer emissions control durability requirements. So they have to keep those systems providing the same level of performance as when they were new all the way out to something like 800,000 miles. So they're looking for all kinds of ways to both improve the performance of the NOx reduction catalyst, but also protect them from premature degradation. That has impact on engine oils because that small amount of oil that does get consumed ends up in the exhaust and can impair their performance.


So we're always faced with that balancing act, looking for ways to make the best use of components, do more with less. We've talked many times about our Delo 600 ADF technology. That's a product that doesn't have any phosphorus whatsoever. It has a very low level of sulphated ash. So we've got, I'd say, very significant formulating experience across the range of chemical limits. And at the end of the day, these standards are performance-based. There's nothing that tells me how much kind of additive I have to use. Really, it's about meeting wear control performance, piston deposit control performance, oxidation stability performance, material compatibility, all these things that kind of oftentimes are at odds with each other, and we have to thread the needle and meet those standards and develop robust products that meet our end user's needs.

Bryan Furnace (09:56):

So let me see if I understand this correctly as a non-oil guy. This is kind of the equivalent of us taking a lot of the sulfur out of diesel fuel. That sulfur and diesel fuel had a purpose back in the day, but through newer formulations, we were able to remove a lot of that sulfur, but still get the same performance characteristics out of the fuel. This is essentially doing the same thing, it's just on the motor oil side. Am I getting that correct?

Shawn Whitacre (10:24):

It's a little bit of a parallel. I think the key difference is the phosphorus that's in engine oil is there deliberately. I mean, it's not something that's inherent to base oil. It's something that we purposely add. A little bit different on the fuel side. Really, the sulfur that's in a fuel is there because it was contained in the crude oil that was used to make the product. And so that... Depending on how significantly you refine a product and other post-processing technology is really to remove it. And so we've always kind of faced constraints on sulfur in fuel, and it just really kind of got to a point where we had it virtually take all of it out. I mean, we're at... In the United States, all diesel fuel has less than 15 parts per million. Most of it has probably less than five or ten PPM.

Bryan Furnace (11:12):


Shawn Whitacre (11:13):

On the engine oil side, when we're talking about phosphorus levels, when we're talking about ppm, we're now maybe 1200 or 800 PPM phosphorus. So moving lower is in the right direction for emission compliance, just like it is on removing sulfur from a diesel fuel. Similar kind of impacts at play.

Bryan Furnace (11:37):

So kind of going to the higher level of going back up to that... talking specifically about PC-12. Could we almost think about this as versions and this is a way that we're measuring versions, and as technology progresses, as the formulations get better and better... Really PC 12, it's this very sophisticated sounding thing, but really it's just the next version of the oil that's now better, but you're still getting the same performance you did out of Grandpappy's oil 20 years ago?

Shawn Whitacre (12:07):

Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that we've always been asked to maintain is backwards compatibility and this category is no different. So when CK-4 becomes CL-4, we've been asked to make sure that all the performance requirements that are in today's oils are maintained in this new category. And that's important, I'd say particularly in the off-highway weight world because we know that diesel engines last a long time. Sometimes tens of thousands of hours in service and off-highway operation. And so it's not uncommon to encounter a piece of equipment that was built back in the '90s, in the early '90s even, and is thirty-ish years old and was developed at a point in time when oil quality was different back in those days, exposed the engine oil to different kinds of contaminants. There was different lube oil soot profiles.


But today's oils have to be sort developed in a way that it can protect those engines as well as the newest engines that are coming off the assembly line now. And that will be prevalent in 2027 when this category comes about. So very much it is just sort of a version and that backwards compatibility as a core tenet to what we do to make sure that these products were robust to the entirety of the marketplace, not just newer engines.

Bryan Furnace (13:28):

Gotcha. So in that, you kind of almost answered my final question for you. But really, do I need to worry as 2026, 2027 rolls around and we start... PC-12 becomes the new standard on the oil. Do I need to worry about changing anything from a preventative maintenance standpoint or from any of my regular routines that I do with my equipment? Do I need to change? Do I need to worry about that? Or do I just continue business as usual?

Shawn Whitacre (13:55):

So it's a little hard to tell. I mean, we will anticipate that anytime there's major model year changes, new emission standards that can come along with new maintenance requirements, but to a large extent, anything I expect to change will probably be at the benefit of the end user, right? So one of the things that we're incorporating into this new standard is yet another improvement in oxidative stability. And that oftentimes allows engine builders to further extend oil drain intervals because oxidation is kind of the primary limiting factor to oil life. And so just like we did with the CK-4 category, introduced a brand new test in that case that measured oxidative stability performance, we're tightening the limit. So we're making that requirement that was put in place back in 2016 even more stringent. Kind of a reflection that engine builders like what they saw in that new category and that want us to go further, so that they can continue to offer competitive drain intervals that line up within user needs.


In the off-highway market, I've seen... Early part of my career, it was pretty common for 250 hour oil change intervals to be the norm. We've seen those increase significantly. I'd say commonplace today is 500 hours and some engine builders with the right combination of duty cycle and oil quality are extending those out to 1000 hours or more.

Bryan Furnace (15:28):


Shawn Whitacre (15:29):

So that's really a reflection of that combination of improvements that they've made to engines, but very clearly improvements that have been made to engine oils to enable those customer oriented improvements.

Bryan Furnace (15:43):

Shawn, this has been... As always, it's just the deeper I go down this wormhole into this stuff, the more interesting it gets as I kind of lock in the pieces. So I really appreciate you kind of taking the time to dissect this and really break it down to a level that's easy for the dumb dirt guys to understand. We appreciate that.

Shawn Whitacre (16:00):

Yeah, we really thank you for this opportunity as well. As like I said, we're kind of got a similar mission is to make sure that end-users understand the opportunities and things that are coming down the road. And I think it'll be good for us to stay in touch in the coming years as we advance towards the finish line here with this new category and other changes that I think will be important for your viewers to understand.

Bryan Furnace (16:25):

Perfect. Well, I look forward to another update in the near future. Thanks again, Shawn.


Well, thank you again for Shawn coming on the show to break down PC-12 and kind of demystify what this is. These are very technical things, and so it's really nice to have someone come in and just help us understand what's happening to our oils, why it's happening, and how we on the front lines are going to benefit from it. So as always, I hope this helps you and your business. We'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.