As automotive technology focuses increasingly on reducing the impact on the environment, the ongoing efforts by lubricant suppliers to drive change are often overlooked.
Since they are at the tip of the spear, in some ways, of the environmental revolution, oil companies have been taking the lead in working to develop new technologies to reduce or offset the environmental impact of their products. Here’s a look at what they are doing.
It goes without saying that we will be seeing major changes in the next few years in all aspects of the automotive industry, but rumours of the death of the regular lubricant and filter change are exaggerated. For one thing, while the push to EVs, PEVs and hybrids is set to skyrocket – several manufacturers have pledged to gradually phase out gasoline cars altogether over the next few years – internal combustion engines will probably stick around for quite some time.
As electric cars become more commonplace, specialized fluids for their maintenance will increase in demand, providing the promise of at least a partial replacement for the oil change business.
With the continued growth of electric and self-driving vehicles, Valvoline has developed a full line of performance fluids, from coolants to Valvoline EV Performance Fluids, including Valvoline EV Heat Transfer Fluid, Valvoline EV Drive System Fluid, Valvoline EV Brake Fluid and Valvoline EV Grease. These fluids cover a range of applications for batteries, fuel cells, electronic controls, charging applications, and even drones and electric aircrafts.
Until oil itself goes the way of the distributor cap, one practical solution is to develop carbon-neutral synthetic oils as a replacement for older standard formulas.
Pennzoil’s Platinum line, introduced earlier this year, features formulations for synthetic, high-mileage and Euro applications. Parent company Shell sees the new Pennzoil lubricants as one component in its pledge to offset the annual emissions of more than 200 million litres of synthetic lubricants, the equivalent of 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, or removing 340,000 cars off the road for one year.
The term “carbon neutral” can be misleading, since it implies that a product produces no carbon emissions at all. In fact, the definition is more complicated than that, according to information on Castrol’s website. (Castrol became the first oil manufacturer to develop a carbon-neutral product with the introduction of its Castrol Professional in 2014.)
To achieve carbon neutral certification, it’s necessary to:
- calculate the carbon footprint of the product
- develop an action plan to reduce the carbon
- purchase sufficient carbon credits to cover the carbon
- deliver against the carbon reduction plan to maintain carbon neutral certification
While marketing carbon neutral products is a significant step, Castrol acknowledges it is only a stopgap solution. Information on the site is candid about this: “We like the role carbon neutral plays in our sustainability journey because it allows us to reduce carbon fast and it delivers additional social good, while we take action to reduce the direct carbon impact.”
Sometimes the simplest solutions can produce significant results as well. A sustainable oil filter concept called Blue-On, developed by Hengst Filtation, aims to do away with the waste that comes from oil changes, whereby the entire filter is replaced and usually discarded, since it contains many different types of materials and is difficult to recycle. The Blue.On filter boasts a simpler design featuring a screw-on reusable plastic housing with a replaceable inner filter that is easy to recycle, significantly reducing the amount of both waste oil and contaminants headed to the waste stream.
Many oil companies have been working to reduce their environmental impact from cradle to grave, so to speak, from initial sourcing and delivery of crude oil to packaging and manufacturing. Liqui Moly USA/Canada CEO Sebastian Zelger explains some of the practices in place at the company.
“Reducing the environmental footprint has been our goal for many years,” he explains. “This is a very comprehensive task which starts with our raw materials. We get most of our base oils by ship instead of by tank trucks, for instance. This greatly reduces emissions.
“We produce our oils exclusively in Germany under the very strict German environmental law,” Zelger continues. “We focus on top quality motor oils. Many of them are approved by the car manufacturers for extended oil change intervals. This allows to reduce oil consumption and consequently the amount of used oil by 50%. In addition, our top quality motor oils help to increase the engine’s lifetime which also has a positive effect on the environment.” Other offerings include engine-cleaning additives, which maximize efficiency, and equipment that facilitates safe and clean storage for used oil.
All of these products are indicative of great strides in recent years towards a cleaner future, at least when it comes to oil and filter products. But consumer education and in some cases, price resistance, is still a barrier, at least in the short term.
Unfortunately, many environmentally sustainable alternatives – in this industry as in others – are still more expensive than their traditional equivalents. Really, the only alternative is to educate the consumer (and your service shop customer) about the benefits of shifting to these new technologies; for there is no turning back.
Liqui Moly’s Sebastian Zelger sums it up nicely. “Business and sustainability are no opponents. There are many situations where benefits for nature come with benefits for your business. For instance, top quality motor oil offers a far higher margin than low cost oils. If people understand that sustainability may partner up with earning money and that spending more money for quality pays off in the long run, then our industry will benefit – as well as nature.”
And, in one example that is hard to ignore, companies are taking their impact on climate change seriously.
Earlier this year global petroleum entity Total announced it was not renewing its membership in the American Petroleum Institute, citing that organization’s positions on climate change.
In its position statement Total says:
“Each year, Total assesses the main industry associations of which it is a member to ensure they are aligned with the Group’s climate positions. This alignment review is based on six key points:
- our science-based position that the link between human activity and climate change is an established fact,
- our support for the objectives of the Paris Agreement,
- our belief in the necessity to implement carbon pricing,
- our confidence in the key role that natural gas plays in the energy transition,
- our support for policies and initiatives that promote the development of renewable energy, and
- our support for the development of CO2 capture and storage.
In addition to its assessment that the API did not align to its satisfaction, Total stated:
“Moreover, API gave its support during the recent elections to candidates who argued against the United States’ participation in the Paris Agreement.”
“The Group acknowledges the API’s considerable contribution, for over a century, to the development of our industry,” said Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman and CEO of Total.
“Nevertheless, as part of our Climate Ambition made public in May 2020, we are committed to ensuring, in a transparent manner, that the industry associations of which we are a member adopt positions and messages that are aligned with those of the Group in the fight against climate change.
“This transparency responds to our stakeholders’ expectations, as well as being an essential guarantee of the credibility of our strategy.”
Across the industry, organizations like this are acknowledging the impact their products and activities have on the environment, while working to lessen those impacts through commitment to policy and technology initiatives designed to provide sustainable solutions for tomorrow and beyond.