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Elements in Spectroscopy Analysis


The basis of modern oil analysis is the use of optical emission spectroscopy (OES) to measure the ppm (parts per million) levels of wear metals, contaminants and additives in oil samples.

Whatever else an oil lab may measure, a multi-elemental analysis is the core of in-service oil analysis.

This article reviews the origins of OES as well as its application to in-service oil analysis resulting in the introduction of the Analysis Spectrometer.

Used Motor Oil Analysis (UOA) identifies the wear trends of the mechanism in which the lubricant is used (Vehicle or Equipment).

UOA is also useful in determining the ideal service life of the oil, as well as to predict any preventive maintenance service (PMS).

Typically about 3 to 4 ounces of the Fluid are required for testing.

This web page only discusses the specific Elements that are on a typical Used Oil Analysis (UOA) report from Oil Analysis Laboratory that utilizes Spectroscopy Equipment.

If you do not understand how such equipment works, please FIRST read the pages linked below.

LINKS to Related pages

About UOA Test Results

We at SynLube Incorporated receive many e-mails with questions about oil tests performed by various laboratories, and how to interpret them. This section should answer most of frequently asked questions, and help to understand what the Elements shown in the Lab Report are, and why they are present in the Used Oil Sample.


Iron = Fe

Property Value
Atomic Number 26
Atomic Weight 55.847
Atomic Volume 0.71
Atomic Radius 1.72
Covalent Radius 1.17
Atomic Density 7.86
Electronegativity 1.83
Electrical Conductivity 99300

Conventional Petroleum or Synthetic oils will NOT show ANY Iron in FRESH OIL

Therefore IRON is normally thought of as "wear" indicator.

In Conventional Lubricants the source of the IRON is the lubricated mechanism.

The sources are:

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® however due to unique chemical formulation has typically 50 PPM in the INITIAL FILL OIL and about 75 PPM in the ADD OIL of Iron, because some of the "sacrificial" antioxidants contain Fe atoms in their chemical molecular make up.

Normally laboratories "Flag" Fe if PPM is greater than 100, although levels below 1,000 rarely translate into any mechanical problems or abnormal wear even in a Conventional Oil.

For practical purposes about 100 should be subtracted from the Lab report to project any "wear" and that is only simple rule.

Labs also usually test oils that are Frequently Changed, therefore oil that remain in the engine for over 10,000 miles will have much higher reading than oil that is changed every 3,000 miles.

The ONLY reliable indication of Relative wear is installation of Filter Magnets onto the Motor Oil Filter and replacing the oil filter at regular intervals (2 years or 25,000 miles).

Cutting the used oil filter apart with appropriate tool and inspecting visually the quantity and quality of the iron deposits that were trapped by the Filter Magnet is much more reliable indication of wear since 80% to 90% engine wear is Ferro-magnetic.

Other less reliable method is taking the Fe reading from lab report, subtracting 100 PPM and dividing that by the miles on the oil.

Example: 114-100 = 14/12,000 = 0.00116

If the Fe value is LESS than 0.01 there is NO NEED for concern about the Iron reading.

Chromium = Cr

Property Value
Atomic Number 24
Atomic Weight 51.99
Atomic Volume 0.723
Atomic Radius 1.85
Covalent Radius 1.18
Atomic Density 7.19
Electronegativity 1.66
Electrical Conductivity 77400

CHROMIUM alloy and plating

No lubricant will show Chromium in FRESH OIL

Therefore CHROMIUM is "wear" indicator.

The source of the CHROMIUM is the lubricated mechanism component parts.

The sources are:

CROMIUM is the ONLY wear element that is of concern in oil analysis of SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® since NO Chromium is present in FRESH Lubricant.

Cr level in relation to miles on the oil is of importance and NOT the actual PPM level.

Some Chromium will be in the oil from the initial break in, and the level will remain constant over many thousands of miles or actually DROP with time and miles.

The Cr reading must be compensated for accumulated mileage.

Example: 11/12,000 = 0.0009

If the value is LESS than 0.005 there is NO NEED for concern about the Chromium reading.

Silicon = Si

Property Value
Atomic Number 14
Atomic Weight 28.08
Atomic Volume 1.21
Atomic Radius 1.46
Covalent Radius 1.11
Atomic Density 2.33
Electronegativity 1.90
Electrical Conductivity N/A

Silicon is typically associated with dirt contamination.

This contamination can result from any condition that allows dirt to enter the oil system.

However in modern engines more often than "dirt" contamination, the detected Silicon is from "other" sources.

Other sources of silicon include seals, oil and coolant additives and greases.

Many OEM's use Silicone Lubricant spray on engine components to prevent rust and to serve as initial break-in lube during engine assembly.

Readings of OVER 1,000 PPM are NOT uncommon on NEW engines, and as always some Silicone will remain even after several oil changes.

Silicone is usually interpreted by labs as Dirt, Dust or Sand if it is associated with "solids" in the oil test, however since SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® has up to 33% by volume of colloidal solids, this rule can not be applied to SynLube™ Lube−4−Life®.

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® uses silicone based anti-foam agents in most of the SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® fluids, therefore silicone levels in 200 to 250 PPM are NORMAL for the formulations and can be as high as 500 PPM for ATF or PSF.

Tin = Sn

Property Value
Atomic Number 50
Atomic Weight 118.71
Atomic Volume 1.63
Atomic Radius 1.72
Covalent Radius 1.41
Atomic Density 7.3
Electronegativity 1.96
Electrical Conductivity 91700

Conventional Petroleum or Synthetic oils will NOT show ANY Tin in FRESH OIL

Therefore Tin is normally thought of as "wear" indicator.

In Conventional Lubricants the source of the TIN is the lubricated mechanism.

The sources are:

TIN overlay or flashing from:

TIN may be present as an oil additive, usually in conjunction with lubricants containing molybdenum compounds.

Chemicals that contain Tin Sn are component part of the SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® INITIAL FILL OIL and readings of 55 to 67 PPM are NORMAL, the Tin level will actually decrease with the use of ADD OIL, and when it drops BELOW 25 PPM it indicates that either INITIAL FILL OIL or SERVICE FILL OIL should be used during NEXT OIL FILTER CHANGE, instead of the ADD OIL .

Molybdenum = Mo

Property Value
Atomic Number 42
Atomic Weight 95.94
Atomic Volume 0.94
Atomic Radius 2.01
Covalent Radius 1.3
Atomic Density 10.2
Electronegativity 2.16
Electrical Conductivity 187000

MOLYBDENUM is often used as Extreme Pressure Additive in specialty oils and greases and also as Corrosion Inhibitor in some oil and coolant supplemental additives.

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® contains Moly (MoS2) colloidal particles and therefore the Molybdenum levels will be in 3,000 PPM and above range, when level drops to below 1,000 PPM, INITIAL FILL OIL should be added instead of the ADD OIL , next time oil addition is needed.

Different test equipment yields different Molybdenum levels from identical test sample, therefore data obtained from different laboratories can not be reliably compared.


SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® is ISO 100 oil;

The viscosity reading at 40°C (104°F) should be about 100 cSt.

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® is SAE 5W-50; oil therefore the viscosity reading at 100°C should be above 16 cSt and below 21.89 cSt.

There are Many differing testers that measure viscosity, and although when using viscosity standard calibration fluid, they can all be calibrated to show the SAME viscosity, this applies ONLY to Newtonian fluids.

Non-Newtonian fluids like SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® will result in differing readings in different equipment design even if the calibration is the same, this sometimes can vary by as much as 200% at low temperatures and about 20 % at 100°C to 150°C range.

Viscosity CHANGE between different oil tests is MORE important than any single viscosity reading, which is both temperature and equipment specific.

API considers oil fit for service even if viscosity of USED oil increases by 375% when compared to fresh oil.

Therefore unless ISO viscosity is above 400 cSt, SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® by the API standard it is still OK.

We recommend oil change or addition of SERVICE FILL OIL when viscosity exceeds either 320 cSt @ 40°C or 50 cSt @ 100°C.


TBN = Total Base Number

As long as TBN is above 0.5 there is no need to change SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® , and even if TBN becomes NEGATIVE (TAN) then only small addition of 4 to 8 oz of TBN additive that is available from SynLube Incorporated will drastically increase TBN readings (sometimes OVER 10).

TBN is generally ONLY concern in some older design Diesel Engines that have sensitivity to oil which turns acidic.

TBN is not relevant in Gasoline fueled engines that utilize Unleaded Gasoline.

Most transmission oils are intentionally acidic as this helps with adhesion of anti-scuff additives onto gear faces and teeth.

TBN of SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® also varies greatly with different tests, quick Electro chemical testers often yield false results because colloidal Graphite contained in SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® is electric conductor and that affects the reading.

The ONLY reliable TBN determination is by laboratory titration and this test is time consuming and expensive, therefore unless specifically requested it is NOT performed during typical low cost oil test.


Unless inspection is done under 100X to 400X microscope, there are NO reliable automatic tests that will correctly indicate presence of Dust, Sand, Dirt, Soot and wear particles in the SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® lubricants.

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® contains as much as 33% by volume of colloidal solids (Graphite, PTFE, Teflon®, Moly). Therefore these sub-micronic solids that are present in SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® will not yield correct values for "contamination" tests, since they usually compare wear or impurities to conventional lubricants which contain NO SOLIDS when FRESH and solids only accumulate during their use.


Low cost oil analysis can be ONLY used for plotting of wear trend or oil viscosity change trend, any single test can not be used to indicate or predict equipment or oil quality.

There always MUST be comparison to FRESH oil analysis of the oil BEFORE it has been installed, as well as Oil that has been in the engine for about 200 miles or 5 hours.

This is because it is NOT possible to drain 100% of any previous lubricant from most mechanisms and values of slightly used oil may vary by as much as 20 to 50% when compared to FRESH UNUSED OIL.

Oils will undergo chemical changes when exposed to heat, which exceed 200°F.

During oil formulation and production conventional oils are not exposed to temperatures over 90°F and synthetic fluids seldom are produced at temperatures that exceed ambient or room temperatures of 70°F

To determine statistically meaning full trend based on OIL ANALYSIS following would have to be done:

  1. Sample USED oil that was previously in the Engine.
  2. Sample FRESH oil prior installation.
  3. Sample Low Mileage USED oil (about 200 miles)
  4. Sample Medium Mileage USED oil (about 2,500 miles)
  5. Sample High Mileage USED oil (about 5,000 miles)

Only the variation between the #4 and #5 tests can be used for a meaningful wear trend or oil deterioration projections, the other tests only serve as base lines to which initial oil composition can be made.

Any SINGLE oil test of SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® will yield data that if compared to conventional petroleum or synthetic lubricants will result at best in "ABNORMAL" values or "FAIL" condition.

SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® is unconventional non-petroleum long-life lubricant therefore conventional oil test standards can not be applied to predict wear or oil condition if the FIVE-test plan shown above is not followed.

SynLube Incorporated has extensive experience with colloidal lubricants and of course with all SynLube™ Lube−4−Life® products, therefore we can either perform any requested or required oil analysis for our customers, or properly interpret results that are obtained from independent oil test laboratories.

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