When it comes to carbon footprints, is your operation a bigfoot?
If your automotive service shop offers oil and filter changes, here's a timely tip that may earn your business some credibility—and green—with environmental activists.
Ashland Inc.'s Valvoline division has launched what it claims is the “freshest idea” in the motor oil industry in the last decade: recycled—or, if you prefer, “re-refined”—motor oil.
Called NextGen, each bottle or jug contains approximately 50-percent recycled oil and 35-percent “new” refined virgin crude oil. Performance additives like detergents, friction modifiers, anti-wear additives and viscosity-index improvers make up the remaining 15 percent, said Thom Smith, vice president of lubricant technology for Ashland.
John Stotz, Ashland's global brands director, told Tire Business advancements in the refining processes, the impact of the recession and surprising results from consumer test marketing in Boston and Columbus, Ohio, convinced Covington-based Ashland that NextGen is the right product at the right time.
Company officials repeatedly stressed that they felt the only way to make recycled oil palatable to consumers was to deliver a product that was just as good as Valvoline's new conventional motor oil. Many motorists, Mr. Stotz pointed out, are not just environmentally sensitive, they're car lovers.
The other non-negotiable factor was cost. NextGen had to be priced the same as the company's non-recycled conventional engine oils.
“Our research showed that consumers are very ready for a product like NextGen now. People are trying to do more with what they have,” Mr. Stotz said. With NextGen, Valvoline can deliver a recycled oil “without compromising any engine protection and at the same time, consumers can lower their own carbon footprint.”
NextGen is available in GF5-compliant 5W20, 5W30, 10W30 and 10W40; Dexos-certified grades are expected later in 2011. Do-it-yourselfers should easily spot NextGen in stores. Packaged in light green bottles or jugs, it should be next to the comparable Valvoline conventional motor oils.
At a Walmart store in Houston, a five-quart jug of NextGen 5W50 was priced at $13 vs. $15 for Valvoline's premium conventional oil.
In addition to supplying its Valvoline Instant Oil Change quick-lube chain, Valvoline has programs for the others in the do-it-for-me (DIFM) market. “When installers make NextGen available, consumers give that installer high marks, and that translates into customer loyalty,” Mr. Stotz said.
Until demand and production ramp up, the company said NextGen will be delivered to shops in 55-gallon drums instead of the usual bulk shipments in trucks.
Ashland officials said that even though the U.S. goes through 800 million gallons of motor oil a year, there's still not enough top-quality, economically viable used oil right now to make all of NextGen's oil come from recycled stock.
Even at 50 percent, NextGen represents potentially 400 million gallons less dependence on virgin-base oil, according to Ashland officials, with no sacrifice in quality.
“Surprisingly, the vast majority of oil molecules don't really break down during the oil change interval,” Mr. Stotz said. “What happens is the oil starts to get contaminants, and additives start to break down.”
Using only select used oil, the oil undergoes a multi-step process that's very similar to that used with crude oil. “What you're left with is fresh base oil that's just as good as what you get from the crude refining process,” he said.
To back up those claims, Valvoline plans to not only have the NextGen name plastered on the racing cars of motorsports partners like Don Schumacher Racing and Roush Fenway Racing, the highly stressed, high-horsepower engines eventually will be running NextGen, Mr. Stotz said.
But it's not just thrills and bragging rights that drive NextGen's team. They claim it's doing the right thing.
“Crude oil is a finite product,” Mr. Smith said. “It only makes sense to make the best possible use of it. With the re-refining, we're able to use and reuse and reuse again those valuable lubricating molecules that come out of the crude oil. So we're conserving crude.”
The production of re-refined base oils also has a much lower impact on the environment than the production of virgin-based oil, he continued. “There's a reduction in the production of toxic emissions, a reduction in greenhouse gasses (and) there's a reduction in acidification…. All these things give NextGen a smaller environmental footprint than virgin products.”
Jeff Yip is a Houston-based freelancer who writes periodically for Tire Business.