"Our mission is to drive technological leadership" - Shell Lubricants VP Selda Gunsel

"Our mission is to drive technological leadership" - Shell Lubricants VP Selda Gunsel

Selda Gunsel is currently vice president of Global Commercial Technology within Shell's Projects & Technology organisation. She is responsible for leading a global group of scientists and engineers, delivering a range of technology programmes including innovation, R&D and technical services to Shell Lubricants and B2B businesses including Marine, Aviation, Commercial Fuels and Specialties. Selda Gunsel spoke to Simon Warburton at Shell's recent Energy and Technology Forum near Paris.

Previously based at Shell Technology Center Houston, Selda re-located to Shanghai, China, late in 2012 to oversee the establishment of a new Lubricants Technical Centre for the company. She participates in an extensive range of media activity to help explain the importance of lubricants in challenges such as the development of smarter mobility solutions and helping industrial consumers make energy and efficiency savings.

j-a: You moved to Shanghai last year from Houston to set up a new lubricants technical centre for Shell - what prompted that decision?

SG: I still have a global role, but historically most of our laboratories have been in Europe and the US and we are relatively weak in terms of technical presence in Asia. Global demand forecast for lubricants is really expected to drive most of the growth.

Shell views being close to customers as being really important. There are a number of new OEMS emerging in Asia and in China in particular.

They are not only important for the local region, but also influencing some of the more established OEMs in the west. For example, Geely in China which bought Volvo cars, their influence is beyond the region.

Until recently, the way we have supported our customers in China is to supply technicians to understand their needs and have joint fuel trials. This is not really a sustainable model.

This requires additional technical support as our business grows and there are more technical requirements. We have currently around 20 people in Shanghai, but obviously the plan is to grow.

We intend by 2020, we will have a laboratory comparable to our laboratories in Hamburg.

j-a: To what extent does the Chinese market embrace lubricants?

SG: There is a really good understanding in the [Chinese] OEMs about how lubricants can help with fuel economy and emissions. Now we have been there a year, emissions is a huge issue.

Government sets strategic targets and the present five-year plan sets very stringent targets on emissions reduction. There is a policy that comes from central government, so there is real understanding of the need to improve energy efficiency. We can play a role there.

These stringent regulations drive innovation in our industry and emissions levels are much lower today than they were 20 years ago.

j-a: Do businesses and clients understand how effective lubricants can be in driving efficiency?

SG: There is a way to go in terms of educate [ing] customers and industry around the role lubricants can play. Everyone wants to talk about next generation fuels, but when it comes to lubricants, there is a lack of awareness. I don't think the general public is aware.

We are holding global lectures at universities where we bring thought leaders together. Our mission is to drive technological leadership - so what does that really mean? - We need to understand our customers' needs. Our goal is to help our customers win - if they win we win by default.

If we can help them improve their equipment life, that impacts their cost of ownership.

j-a: How would you place Shell Lubricants in terms of your competitors?

SG: It is a very competitive industry. Based on results for the past six years, we have been named the number one global lubricants company by an independent research company. With that position comes responsibility.

j-a: What are some of the technologies you are working on?

SG: We see material science change. We see advanced surface coatings for example. This requires different lubricant chemistries. Another science advancing is surface engineering.

By using laser, you can change the surface of bearings, so one of our areas is how we can focus on using lubricants for textured surfaces.

j-a: How does Shell regard the increasing use of electric vehicle technology?

SG: As Shell we support all solutions that will help us address the energy challenge. We know we need more than one solution and electric mobility is one of the solutions, but can it replace the entire fleet? I am not sure about it.

There will always be lubricants, even in electric vehicles.

Selda Gunsel has published extensively in the field of lubrication science, received patents and is well known in the industry. She has served as president of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) and the chairman of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Lubricants Research Award Board. She is a member of the Industrial Advisory Board of Penn State University and serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Lubrication Science, UK and Tribology Transactions, US. She has chaired and delivered keynote addresses at many international conferences.

Throughout her career, Selda has received numerous awards including STLE Fellow for outstanding personal achievement in lubrication science, R&D 100 Innovation Award, SAE International Excellence in Presentation Award, STLE Captain Alfred E. Hunt Best Paper Award, Penn State Outstanding Engineering Alumna Award and internal awards for both innovation and leadership in diversity and inclusiveness.

In January 2013, Selda was appointed as an Honorary Professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University with whom Shell enjoys a partnership to deepen the understanding of lubricants.