Valvoline launches NextGen line of motor oil with 50% recycled oil

The NextGen line of oils, with 50% recycled oil, will include conventional, synthetic blend and high mileage offerings. Click to enlarge.

Valvoline, a leading independent marketer of motor oil, has introduced its NextGen line of motor oils, featuring the inclusion of 50% recycled base oil. There have been earlier, generally unsuccessful attempts at marketing recycled motor oil; NextGen marks the first entry of such a product delivered by a major motor oil marketer.

Emphasizing the tagline “50% recycled oil, 100% Valvoline protection”, the company is selling the recycled line at the same price, with the same guarantee, as its conventional products. Initially, Valvoline is producing 10 different NextGen products, comprising different weights of conventional, synthetic blend, and high mileage motor oils.

Currently, Valvoline’s sales consist of about 70% conventional motor oil; 10% full synthetics; 10% high-mileage products; and the remainder going to heavy-duty and synthetic blends. The company hopes that its NextGen line—its first major new line since the MaxLife high-mileage products—will get to about the 10% share level.

Motor oil comprises about 85% base oil (hydrocarbons in the C30 range) and 15% additives. As motor oil ages in use, the additives are consumed, and the oil picks up water, sludge and other contaminants. In the US, Valvoline executives said during a media briefing at their headquarters in Lexington, Ky, about 85% of used motor oil is properly collected. Of that 85%, the bulk is burned as fuel oil, while currently about 11% is re-refined.

There are several environmental benefits to using re-cycled, or re-refined, base oil stocks. First, it reduces the demand for new crude. Second, re-refining motor oil is less energy-intensive than producing motor oil from virgin crude. Third, it provides a pathway for keeping used motor oil from being burned, or from being disposed of improperly. An oft-cited data point its that 1 gallon of motor oil can contaminate 1 million gallons of drinking water.

The company will continue to offer its conventionally derived counterparts to those products as well, partly due to the need for consumer education, partly due to current limitations on the supply of re-refined base oils.

Valvoline is not an oil producer; the enabler of this new line is the availability of high-quality stocks of re-refined base oils.

Our challenge with NextGen is to drive consumer acceptance. There have been in the past other recycled oils that have been launched out there. The issue with those in my opinion is that it was asking consumers to trade performance. Our challenge is make sure that consumers literally have no tradeoff in making the switch. That was our standard. We can’t ask consumers to pay for it, nor can we ask consumers to take a quality trade-down.

—Blair Boggs, VP of Global Marketing

The trust that people have in the Big V is tremendous. So when we bring the V to a product, recycled oil, we start to change the conversation. We have their attention. Without the V, there is no discussion. They are not interested. Not going in my car. With the V, oh, Valvoline is doing it, I want to learn more. But we have to go a little bit farther than that. We have to provide those assurances.

—Sam Mitchell, President

Earlier efforts at recycling motor oil used a number of approaches, the most successful of which was the acid-clay process, in which the used oil is treated with acid, which reacts with oxygen compounds and some sulfur- and nitrogen-based compounds to form sludge. While this approach produced lubrication stocks, it also produced large volumes of petroleum-contaminated acid clay sludge, which became classified as a hazardous waste requiring proper management and disposal—hence increasing the host.

Lifecycle benefits of re-refined oil vs. virgin crude. Source: Thom Smith, VP, Branded Lubricant Technology, Valvoline, from Fehrenbach (2005). Click to enlarge.

New regeneration technologies with improved performance—mirroring advanced petroleum refining technologies—have since been developed and implemented. A 2005 lifecycle study by Horst Fehrenbach, commissioned by GEIR (Groupement Européen de l’Industrie de la Régénération) examined the material and energy flows of advanced re-refining techniques represented by four companies operating in Europe and one in the USA (Evergreen, the dominant provider). Fehrenbach concluded that the re-refining of used oil for recovery of base oils leads to significant resource preservation and relief from environmental burdens when compared to the production of base oils in large-scale crude oil refineries. Specifically:

  • For the majority of impact categories regeneration is more beneficial than direct burning. In the case of the global warming impact, however, direct burning was shown to be more beneficial when coal is displaced.

  • As the proportion of synthetic compounds in used oil increases, the benefit for global warming by burning used oil directly is significantly reduced.

  • The conclusion in relation to global warming is sensitive to the type of fuel that is displaced by the burning of used oil. If fuels other than coal or pet coke were to be displaced in cement kilns by the direct burning of used oil the analysis would conclude that the regeneration of used oil is overall beneficial compared to direct burning.

  • The analysis of some sensitive parameters shows additional aspects developing in favor of regeneration, especially with regard to allocation method and when an increasing pool of secondary fuels starting to compete is taken into account.

The Evergreen Oil process. Click to enlarge.

Evergreen Oil, Inc, and its engineering affiliate CEP (Chemical Engineering Partners) use a process for re-refining based on vacuum distillation (using Thin Film Evaporation) and hydrotreating (also known as hydrofinishing). According to Fehrenbach, all the existing commercial re-refiners in North America use this technology.

The Evergreen/CEP process can produce 3 quarts of refined lubricating oil from 1 gallon of used oil. The proprietary re-refining process consists of the following steps:

  1. Feedstock analysis and selection. Regulatory requirements in the US prohibit the processing of used oil with excessively high levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls or Chlorides. Process considerations require evaluation of feedstock to ensure that it is suitable for re-refining. Each load of used oil is tested before being accepted by the re-refinery.

  2. Chemical treatment to reduce fouling in the process equipment. Used oil is difficult to process. The presence of additives and contaminants makes it difficult to employ conventional petroleum processing techniques without accelerated fouling and coking in process vessels and heat exchangers. CEP developed technology to address these problems and achieves good run length with its equipment before it must be cleaned due to fouling and coking. As additives packages and lube oil properties have evolved over the years, it has adjusted our processing techniques to maintain good performance.

  3. Removal of water and light hydrocarbons such as fuel. In some cases it is possible to use the light hydrocarbon by-products as plant fuel. This is determined by local environmental regulations. If local regulations do not permit the use of these by-products as plant fuel they can be sold as fuel.

  4. Removal of catalyst poisons before the hydrotreating step. Some additives and contaminants in used oil are detrimental to the hydrotreating catalyst. Rapid deactivation of the hydrotreating catalyst occurs when these poisons are present.

  5. Separate the base oil from the additives and high boiling hydrocarbons. A wiped film evaporator operating under vacuum is used to achieve this separation. The vacuum allows separation at temperatures below oil cracking temperatures. The lower temperatures and short residence time in the wiped film evaporator minimize coking that occurs in other types of distillation equipment.

  6. Hydrotreating. Three hydrotreating reactors are used in series to reduce sulfur to less than 300 ppm and increase saturates to more than 90%, meeting the key specifications for API Group II base oil.

  7. Vacuum distillation to separate the hydrotreated base oil into multiple viscosity cuts in the fractionator.

Valvoline’s conventional and NextGen oils meet ILSAC GF-5 specs; however, the NextGen pathway requires less energy. Source: Thom Smith. Click to enlarge.

Compared to making lube oil from crude oil, it takes only half as much energy to make it from used oil with the CEP Re-Refining process while the lube oil produced is of equal or better quality, CEP says. The CEP process utilizes hydrotreating to remove the unwanted sulfur and to saturate the aromatics and unsaturated hydrocarbons to produce the finished product that is approved as API Group II Base Oil.

Valvoline then combines the re-refined base oil with conventional, virgin base oil to produce the base oil blend stock for its various formulations. The recycled oil represents 50% of the final product (85% base + 15% additives). Both conventional and NextGen products meet ILSAC GF-5 spec.

The International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) GF-5 specification, approved in 2009, defines the minimum performance requirements (both engine sequence and bench tests) and chemical and physical properties for engine oils for spark-ignited internal combustion engines. It is expected that many engine manufacturers will recommend ILSAC GF-5 oil. However, performance parameters other than those covered by the tests included or more stringent limits on those tests included in this standard may be required by individual OEMs.

The new ILSAC GF-5 specification is the fifth in a series issued by ILSAC to provide improvements in fuel economy, emissions system protection, and engine oil robustness for gasoline engines.

Valvoline, a subsidiary of specialty chemicals company Ashland Inc., is a marketer of premium-branded automotive and commercial lubricants, automotive chemicals, automotive appearance products and automotive services, with sales in more than 100 countries. The Valvoline trademark was federally registered in 1873 and is the oldest trademark for lubricating oil in the United States.

(Valvoline provided travel and lodging for the media briefing.)


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