Person charging electric vehicle

How e-fluids and e-greases are supporting the future of EV technology

Discover how specialised lubricants for electric vehicles (EVs) are contributing to the development of more efficient battery technology while helping industrial businesses make the case for electrification.

Key Takeaways

  • Graphic illustrating business case for EVs

    To make the business case for electrification, industrial businesses need methods to maximise the performance and efficiency of their EV fleets.

  • Graphic illustrating gearboxes and electric motors running smoothly

    E-fluids and e-greases are more than just a way to keep components like gearboxes and electric motors running smoothly. They contribute to the fundamental performance of an EV.

  • Graphic illustrating benefits of e-transmission, e-greases and e-fluids on electrified components

    E-transmission fluids, e-thermal fluids and e-greases provide protection and drive efficiency while offering the best compatibility with sensitive electrified components.

  • Graphic illustrating EV battery life and ultra-fast charging

    E-thermal fluids based on immersive cooling technology protect battery cells from the effects of ultra-fast charging and discharging, which can enable more compact battery designs, extended range, and longer battery life — helping to drive down EV total cost of ownership.

  • Graphic illustrating potential for rapid charging to reduce equipment downtime

    Formula E offers a case study for the journey towards more efficient EV technology, having improved battery performance significantly while demonstrating the potential for rapid charging to reduce equipment downtime.

Image of Christopher Dobrowolski

Christopher Dobrowolski, Associate Technology Manager of Shell E-Fluids, Shell Global Solutions

An expert in the world of e-fluids, Christopher Dobrowolski is a key figure behind Shell’s ongoing development of lubrication solutions for electrification. Working alongside leading OEMs to drive R&D and shape the future of battery electric vehicles, Chris is at the forefront of the EV technology space.

The challenge

Faced with the difficult task of meeting increasingly strict sustainability targets, industrial businesses are looking to electrification as a way of decarbonising their fleets. However, concerns around performance and efficiency are still barriers that create a challenge for leaders looking to make the case for bringing EVs into their operations.

The solution

The efficiency and performance of each vehicle is critical. And the fill-for-life performance of e-fluids and e-greases offer an effective way to enhance the output of evolving battery technology. As well as preventing breakdowns that cause downtime, these specialised fluids extend component life and support rapid charging.

They help businesses to drive the performance and efficiency of their electrified equipment – enabling them to make the business case for electrification and support their decarbonisation efforts.

E-fluids being poured into EV

New powertrains need new lubricants

It might come as a surprise to some that you still need lubricants to ensure the smooth running of an EV.

“At the early stages of electrification, many thought that driving electric means no need for lubricants at all,” says Dobrowolski. “But there are good reasons to pay even more attention to detail when picking the right lubrication for EVs.”

Many first- and second-generation EVs used conventional transmission fluids to lubricate their gearboxes. But this wasn’t an optimal way to advance the technology, or its efficiency. Instead, new lubricants – including e-fluids and e-greases – are now helping OEMs to design their hardware more effectively.

An example of this can be seen in the latest generation of EVs. OEMs are combining the cooling system of the electric motor with the lubrication system of the gearbox to downsize and optimise hardware components. And this is only possible using specially designed transmission fluids.

“From better thermal management that enables high-speed charging to more effective electric motors, e-fluids and e-greases are integral to driving performance and efficiency while extending component lifetime,” says Dobrowolski. “All of which makes e-mobility more attractive to end-user businesses.”

People thought that, if you eliminate the internal combustion engine, you don't need lubrication at all. You might not need an engine oil, but you still have a gearbox. You still have an electric motor, so you still need to have cooling liquids and lubricating liquids.

Christopher Dobrowolski, Associate Technology Manager of Shell E-Fluids, Shell Global Solutions

E-fluids and e-greases explained

In much the same way that premium engine oils make a significant difference to internal combustion engine (ICE) systems, e-fluids and e-greases are more than just a way to keep components running smoothly. There are three lubricant groups that work together to drive the efficiency of an EV’s electrified components:

  • E-transmission fluids

    These fluids include transmission oils that protect the bearings and gears in a gearbox, as well as cooling electric motors. With more OEMs integrating electric motors into their gearboxes, e-fluids need to be compatible with both – lubricating the metal surfaces while providing efficient thermal management of the motor.

  • E-thermal fluids

    These are liquids designed for immersive battery cooling. Dielectric fluids that are compatible with direct contact with a battery cell, they provide more effective heat transfer and electrical insulation than indirect cooling systems. This supports ultra-fast charging by effectively controlling the temperature of each individual cell, offering greater protection and performance – including longer lifetime and superior safety as compared to conventional side wall cooling methods.

  • E-greases

    With electric motors running at incredibly high speeds, they need protection from the friction and wear this can cause. It’s also important to insulate the bearings in the motor from electrical currents that can lead to critical failures. This is where e-greases play a vital role, protecting and insulating components to keep them running optimally.

In addition to providing protection and driving efficiency, these fluids are designed to deliver the highest possible compatibility with sensitive electrified components.

“You can’t just apply any kind of transmission fluid, for example,” says Dobrowolski. “You really need to consider the whole chemical system of the lubricant. By reformulating it, you can make sure that it keeps a vehicle running effectively throughout its lifetime.”

The importance of immersion cooling to EVs

E-fluids can even contribute to the ongoing development of the EV hardware, with e-thermal fluids providing an effective example of how this can work.

“When looking at improving the next generation of EVs, a key focus area is reduced charging times,” says Dobrowolski. “Customers want to spend less time charging their vehicles and they want to extend the range of their vehicles. To do that, you could increase the battery capacity, but that only adds more weight to the vehicle.”

Not only are heavier vehicles likely to be less efficient when in operation, the batteries themselves will take longer to charge – potentially increasing downtime. Instead, Dobrowolski highlights how e-thermal fluids can help to deliver a more effective solution.

“If you have a better way to keep the battery system cool through more efficient heat transfer, you can push it further in terms of performance and charging,” he explains. “This means you can design a more compact – yet still more efficient – battery. This saves weight, delivers higher ranges and helps businesses to charge their vehicles more quickly.”

This can be critical for long haul distance travelling, either for passenger cars or heavy-duty electric vehicles, where rapid charging will be essential in extending their range without the need for additional enforced stops at charging points.

Compared to conventional battery modules, thermal fluids formulated for direct battery contact provide much more efficient heat transfer through an immersive liquid designed to carry the heat out the battery system.

Christopher Dobrowolski, Associate Technology Manager of Shell E-Fluids, Shell Global Solutions

Developing the future of electrification: OEM partnerships and learnings from Formula E

Partnerships with cutting-edge OEMs are helping to accelerate the uptake of lubricant technologies like e-thermal fluids for EVs.

“We have partnered up with companies like Kreisel Electric, one of the technology leaders in this space – and one of the first to adopt battery immersion technologies,” says Dobrowolski. “This type of collaboration will be essential to the development of EVs. Combining our expertise in fluids with their expertise in hardware will deliver the best possible solutions when designing the next generation of batteries.”

With cycles to develop the entire EV spanning 5-8 years, and with a lubricant’s development cycle being 2-3 years, tomorrow’s innovation needs to start today.

Christopher Dobrowolski, Associate Technology Manager of Shell E-Fluids, Shell Global Solutions

E-fluids being used in Formula E racing

And, while e-fluids and e-greases are set to contribute to the development of EV hardware that delivers greater efficiency and performance, that can be difficult to visualise. However, industrial businesses have an unlikely case study that shows how their electrification journey might play out: Formula E.

“I think e-motorsports are an amazing showcase for the impact of innovation. In the early days of Formula E, you could see the limitations of the battery technology,” says Dobrowolski. “Because the battery capacity wasn’t there, drivers had to swap cars during the race to make sure they could reach the finish line.”

Now though, they’re able to drive an entire race with the same car. The battery might be at <1-2% capacity by that point, but it’s a huge improvement on the need to use multiple vehicles to get the job done. Obviously, the needs of a Formula-E racing car are massively different to those of vehicles in use across construction sites, farms, and mines. But the move towards more efficient hardware, supported by specialised lubricants, will look largely the same. And OEMs are already taking note.

Ultimately, by helping to extend vehicle ranges, extend component life and reduce downtime for charging, e-fluids and e-greases will contribute to efficiency and performance gains across industrial fleet operations. This helps businesses to make the case for electrification and supports the acceleration of their decarbonisation efforts.

Glossary

What is immersive cooling?

Immersive direct cooling is a method of regulating temperatures in electrical components and provides a highly efficient alternative to air or other indirect cooling methods such as cold plates. It works by fully immersing the components in a thermally conductive, electrically non-conductive (dielectric) coolant to manage the heat generated by the immersed equipment when it’s in use. It is increasingly being sought after as a solution in data centres as a more efficient cooling solution for high performance computing infrastructure and in EVs to protect battery cells from the effects of ultra-fast charging and discharging, while also enabling extended range and longer battery life.

BEV / EV

Battery Electric Vehicle / Electric Vehicle

FCEV

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle

EDU

Electric Drive Unit (combination of a gear reduction set with an electric motor)

Disclaimers

1 Interact Analysis, “150% Growth By 2030 Projected For Off-Highway Electrified Components Market.” interactanalysis.com. 2021.

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