When it comes to offering contributed articles, I follow some of the oldest writing advice around: write what you know. And, with 30 years in the business, it’s safe to say that I know a little about the automotive and trucking industry.
Today, fuel prices are at an all-time high and are trending up; the accelerating conversion rate of fleets to natural gas serves as an encouraging sign for the energy market. Not only does fueling cars and trucks with domestic natural gas help reduce US dependence on foreign oil, but the use of natural gas has been shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a 23 percent margin. This is great news for the environment. For example, consider an 18-wheeler that uses up to 20,000 gallons of fuel per year. Replacing only 100,000 of these trucks with those powered by natural gas would immediately cut our consumption of diesel fuel up to 2 billion gallons, per year. Likewise, converting just one truck from diesel to natural gas is the equivalent of taking as many as 325 cars off the road in terms of pollution reduction.
For many fleet operators, achieving a clean, green operating profile is certainly a key objective, yet there are also less discussed – but equally important — economic considerations at play. Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, LLC (GNA), one of the nation’s leading consulting firms specializing in emission reduction and energy and transportation policy, has been involved with a large number of natural gas vehicle (NGV) projects. GNA’s chief executive officer Erik Neandross says that the company has seen real world NGV fleets demonstrating fuel costs savings of 33 percent versus diesel options. That’s huge.
But with all this excitement circulating around the energy security, environmental, and economic benefits of NGVs, it’s easy to forget that there’s still a petroleum product circulating in natural gas powered trucks: engine oil.
Each year, the US produces approximately 1.3 billion gallons of used engine oils, only 20 percent of which is re-refined. With recent technological developments, leading scientists and engineers have honed the capability to “recycle” used engine oil and restore it to “better than new” quality. That’s because used engine oil is actually a higher quality feedstock than crude.
To speak technically, engine oil is approximately 85 percent oil and 15 percent additives (detergent, anti-foaming stabilizers) and it is the latter 15 percent which breaks down by design as contaminants accumulate over time, necessitating oil changes. As the oil molecules themselves retain their chemical compositions, spent engine oil simply needs to be refreshed (stripping away contaminants and the worn out additives), re-refined into American Petroleum Institute (API) approved base oil, and then infused with a fresh additive package, to transform what was once thought of as a waste into a top-grade lubricant product.
For NGV fleet operators, re-refined engine oil represents a critical link towards taking sustainability efforts to the ultimate level. From an energy perspective, the average 12 quart oil change using re-refined oil helps spare 60 barrels of crude oil from being either extracted or imported. As a process, re-refining used oil takes up to 89 percent less energy and produces up to 65 percent less environment-impacting emissions than refining crude.
But above all, re-refined oil can be considered as a performance driven product that offers a number of economic advantages. To name but a few: typically higher total base numbers (TBNs) for long-term protection, reduced engine wear, extended drain intervals– all leading to less oil consumption and better fuel economy. For fleet operators, this isn’t just saving on the margins. Investing in re-refined engine oil offers sizable returns when it comes to maintenance costs and keeping care of multi-thousand dollar pieces of machinery.
It’s an exciting time to be in the automotive industry. It’s exciting to see new products and new technologies power our cars and trucks, but frankly, it’s more exciting to see a veritable revolution in outlook among fleet operators. For perhaps the first time ever, decision-makers are realizing that environmental considerations and economic considerations can be fused, rather than weighed; that what’s good for the planet can also be good for our bottom-lines. Helping the environment can help enterprises.
John Q. Wesley is CEO of Universal Lubricants.