The market for natural gas-powered vehicles
is heating up, especially for the trucking industry. All time low fuel prices are encouraging leading manufacturers like Cummins Westport, Navistar and Peterbilt
to introduce new engine and truck models seemingly on a weekly basis.
By David A. Hill
Not to be outdone, manufacturers of lubricants are joining the party, and Universal Lubricants, LLC, leads the charge. Unless you’re a gearhead or work in the industry, talking motor oil, even motor oil for natural gas engines, isn’t going to move the dial up on your social skills. For Universal Lubricants, however, it’s becoming a business niche with lots of upside.
The Kansas-based manufacturer has a long track record of developing lubrication products with a decidedly ”green” slant. In fact, it is one of only four domestic suppliers of re-refined engine oils.
“Re-refining motor oil reduces the environmental footprint, with less energy consumption. We are also the only refinery with a true closed-loop process, in which waste from one industry gets used by another industry,” says Joseph Franceschi, a Universal Lubricants Engineer.
Think of re-refining as a high end use of used motor oil,” adds John Wesley, Universal Lubricants’ CEO (below).
Each year, the U.S. produces roughly 1.3 billion gallons of used engine oils, only 10 percent of which is re-refined. The rest is either improperly disposed of, damaging the environment, or burned as an industrial fuel, wasting limited petroleum reserves and perpetuating the need to import foreign oil.
Dedicated to reversing this trend, Universal collects, re-refines, blends, packages and redistributes its own oil without ever losing guardianship within the chain – in an infinitely repeatable cycle. From its 12-million gallon plant in Wichita, the company sends re-refined oil to 28 facilities in 14 states across the country.
Alternative Lubricant for Natural Gas Engines
Universal recently introduced ECO ULTRA® CNG, an alternative lubricant for natural gas vehicles consisting of up to 83 percent re-refined material.
The product completely eliminates new petroleum products from circulation in CNG fleets while also meeting engine manufacturers’ specifications and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) requirements. Universal also manufactures a traditional lubricant called Orion produced from virgin base oil. Both ECO ULTRA® CNG and Orion are low ash, high quality products included in the company’s proprietary “closed-loop” system.
“It’s sometimes easy to forget that there’s still a petroleum based product in CNG engines, so lubricants often slip from sustainability and budget conversations,” according to Wesley.
Developing lubricants for natural gas engines is particularly challenging because the specifications are changing every few years, and lubrication is a specification-driven market. New specs supersede older ones, so it’s a moving target for lubrication manufacturers.
CEO Wesley says they’re working on obtaining OEM recommendations for its natural gas engine lubricants. ”We’ve been producing CNG and LNG lubricants for years, but now with natural gas infrastructure gaining interest as prices have dropped, the niche is becoming more important to our company.”
Long Haul Fleets Targeted
“We are trying to crack the market at the long haul fleet level, which is the toughest,” Wesley notes. “Day fleet operations like municipal trash haulers already have a good penetration of natural gas-powered vehicles. They go out on duty during the day and return to the home base in the evening, where they can be re-fueled.”
Development of CNG and LNG long haul fleets will require an infrastructure build-out of fueling stations across the country, a formidable task that companies such as Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. and Clean Energy Fuels are already cracking.
“The CNG market is less expensive and our lubricants for natural gas are competitive with major brand diesel oils at specs level,” says Wesley, whose reseller network includes a Metro Denver-based service center in Aurora.
The product line has been formulated to provide exceptional deposit, wear, oil oxidation and oil nitration control in the typically turbocharged engines fueled by natural gas. Low in phosphorous, the ECO ULTRA® line meets catalyst manufacturers’ requirements and is available in SAE 30, 40 and 15W40.
“For CNG fleet operators, Universal Lubricants’ products and closed loop system represent real opportunity. For individual businesses, our competitive pricing coupled with reduced maintenance costs offers economic advantages,” Wesley enthusiastically points out.
Emphasizing the environmental slant, the CEO says that “the more fleets that adopt Orion and ECO ULTRA®, the more petroleum we can turn into a true renewable resource.”
Reaching that goal is good for everyone.