Valvoline is not the only oil company eager to kick-start a green revolution when it comes to recycling and repackaging spent engine oil. Universal Lubricants, an American corporation which has been servicing the international oil market since 1929, has also begun to push hard into the eco-oil sphere. I had the chance to speak with Universal Lubricants CEO John Wesley this week and get the details regarding how recycled oil could be the next wave of green products to take over the automotive industry.
Universal Lubricants initially became involved with recycled oil products after it discovered it was possible to create a 'virgin spec' (industry-speak for pure) base oil using re-refined used oil. It was then a short step to use this base oil to create a range of commercial lubricants that could be used by everyday drivers in almost any vehicle. Universal Lubricants calls its recycled motor oil ECO Ultra, with is composed of 70 percent used oil.
Wesley explained that used engine oil never actually wears out, but its additives package does. If it is properly refined to remove metals, dirt and debris, oil can be used again and again, since its chemical composition never changes. Once re-refined, the clean recycled oil can be combined with a new additives package in order to meet API Group II requirements - the gold standard for motor oil classification. Universal Lubricants is currently the only company in the United States that offers a completely closed-loop oil recycling solution, taking care of collection, transportation, re-refining and blending.
Wesley also stressed that perhaps the most important aspect of the burgeoning recycled oil movement is that it finally provides a full lifecycle for used oil products in the United States. Until now, oil recycling typically meant consumption by the burner market, which employs used oil as a method of generating energy. With the advent of re-refineries (of which there are only four in the United States), oil can now essentially be used again and again in place of crude oil as a lubricant for a number of different engine types. Re-refining also has the benefit of consuming far less energy than is required during the initial refining of crude oil.
ECO Ultra first became available to professional installers such as dealerships, quick lube shops and general repair facilities at the end of 2009. Universal Lubricants is currently in the process of bringing the product to shelves across the country where it will sit beside other standard and recycled oils already on the market. John Wesley, far from being discouraged by the presence of industry heavyweight Valvoline on the recycled oil scene, is actually encouraged by the marketing dollars that the brand will put behind encouraging drivers to choose greener engine oil. As with Valvoline's NextGen line, ECO Ultra is targeting three main grades: standard, synthetic blend and high mileage.
There are of course challenges in getting motorists to move away from traditional oils and instead choose a recycled product. Universal Lubricants has so far had significant success in environments where service advisors are able to explain the environmental benefits of recycled oil directly to consumers. The key to further growing the green oil niche, according to Wesley, will be creating a packaging in the retail space that accomplishes the same task. Like Valvoline, the company is optimistic about the potential for recycled oil to occupy an important role in the oil change industry and help to both reduce the reliance on refined crude oil and provide a fresh use for the millions of gallons of used engine lubricants produced by American drivers each year.