• Mar 16th 2011 at 11:48AM
  • 57


Here's the situation: You're an important motor oil company. You're not the biggest one, but people respect you enough that you can use "The V" as well-known shorthand for your brand. Also, you've kind of got a chip on your shoulder when it comes to competing with the big players, always wanting to make sure you innovate ahead of the competition.

In 2005, you start thinking about making a "green" motor oil. Your marketing team tells you that customers are ready for it. Your engineers say that the technology has finally evolved enough to actually make a high-quality, reliable product from recycled used motor oil. So you decide to go ahead with this project, spend a lot of money on developing it and then figure out a way to get people to buy it. First, though, you need a code name for the whole thing. What do you call it? If you're Valvoline, the answer is "Project Shamrock," and we've got all the details for you after the jump.


  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil
  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil

  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil
  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil

  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil
  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil

  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil
  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil

  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil
  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil

  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil
  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil

  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil
  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil

  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil
  • Valvoline NextGen Recycled Oil



valvoline project shamrock

Since 1876, when it became the first trademarked lubricant ever, Valvoline has been first and foremost a motor oil company. That was the clear message that company president Sam Mitchell gave to a group of reporters visiting the Lexington, KY headquarters yesterday. For the "independent" Valvoline, motor oil is not an afterthought, something to do alongside drilling for crude. Okay, if you want to be picky, then, yes, Valvoline is a division of Ashland Inc., but why let the truth get in the way of a good story, especially since Valvoline is not vertically integrated and really, really cares about making good motor oil? Motor oil is the company's main reason for being, and it hasn't introduced a new, big product since MaxLife, an oil designed for high-mileage vehicles, in 2000.

Valvoline NextGen Recycled OilNow, though, the company is announcing a new motor oil called NextGen, which is made up of 50 percent recycled motor oil. Even though everyone told us – and every bottle of the stuff proudly proclaims – that NextGen is also "100 percent Valvoline" and will offer up the same performance that people expect from any other Valvoline motor oil, the company knows that this product is not guaranteed to be a instant hit. After all, would you put used motor oil in your engine?

Well, you might if you got the same detailed explanation about NextGen that we did yesterday. Here's the short version:

When you buy a new bottle of motor oil, what you're actually getting is a liquid that contains 85 percent motor oil and 15 percent additives. When that motor oil runs through your engine for a few thousand miles and gets "used," all that really happens is that additives get contaminated and useless, while the 85 percent motor oil is still there, still okay. This 85 percent is called base oil, and it can be reclaimed and turned into new motor oil.

All those nice hydrocarbons have got to be worth something to someone, right? Of course they are. Currently, almost all of the used motor oil in the U.S. is properly collected, both from DIY and DIFM (Do It For Me) sources. The DIFM collection strategy is firmly in place, and we assume most readers are familiar with the fact that you can bring your used oil to an oil shop and they'll help you put it in the big drum in back. Every few weeks, a truck comes by to collect it. The problem – from Valvoline's perspective – is that most of the collected used oil gets burned for heat, is turned into something like bunker fuel or is used to make asphalt. Some, of course, just gets dumped into the environment, but you can't educate everyone to not be an idiot.

Thus, technically, most used motor oil is already getting recycled, right? Well, yes, but Valvoline's wiry and energetic vice president of global marketing, Blair Boggs, isn't happy with this sort of one-shot deal. After all, the loop could be closed, with the good 85 percent in each bottle constantly going from engine to re-refinery to bottle and around and around again. It's not a small amount, either: U.S. cars and trucks use 3 billion quarts (almost 800 million gallons) of motor oil every year.

"If we can put a dent in that, we can do something great here," Boggs said, estimating that if everyone switched to NextGen – or another recycled motor oil (once one hits the market) – that 3 billion quarts number would be cut in half. Even better, it takes less energy to re-refine motor oil in this way than it does to drill for new sources, and the overall environmental footprint is noticeably smaller in all six of the categories that European researches recently investigated (see chart below).

recycled motor oil environmental footprint

So, what's the problem? There are two big ones: supply and demand.

First, right now, with so much of the collected used motor oil getting burned, only around 11 percent of the ends up getting recycled, and that's a hard limit because the infrastructure to re-refine used motor oil is pretty full at the moment. Thus, Valvoline couldn't make more NextGen right now even if it wanted to. So, the company will start with the modest goal to get NextGen products to make up about 10 percent of its total motor oil offerings; that's on par with Valvoline's high mileage and full synthetic products.

As part of the NextGen introduction, Valvoline is working with retailers to incentivize people bringing their own used oil to the shop; for example, by giving them a coupon for cheaper NextGen oil. Quid pro quo, and all that. If Valvoline can increase demand for the used motor oil, there's a good chance the supply will increase, since there is interest out there in building more smaller, re-refineries. It may cost around $40 million to build a 20-million-gallon re-refinery, but that's significantly less than a virgin oil refinery that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. As for the used oil collectors, they have higher margins when they sell their product to a recycler than when they turn it into heating oil. The supply pieces could all fall into place.

Of course, this will only happen if – and here's where the journalists' visit to Lexington comes into focus – people know about and demand to use NextGen.

Valvoline's message here is pretty simple: buying NextGen will not cost you any more, its performance is the same and the product is better for the environment. Who could say 'No' to that? Well, how many people still use 10W40 even though manufacturers now regularly recommend lower-viscosity blends? How many people out there remember other, failed "recycled" motor oil attempts? How many old timers don't want to risk putting anything green in their cherished vehicles? Valvoline has been testing NextGen in 20 stores in Columbus, OH and 12 in the Boston area and has been dealing with all of these issues. So, while the company expects there is a market for a green motor oil, it knows it has to do a lot of consumer education to really sell it to the masses. TV advertising starts in April, and if you go into a Valvoline-branded shop in the near future, expect to get an eco/sales pitch from your mechanic. This is how Valvoline hopes that it can work to increase the demand and the supply. This is no easy task, but the stakes are high and, Valvoline thinks, the time is right.

valvoline-nextgen-motor-oil

"Our challenge is to drive consumer acceptance," Boggs said, "NextGen will reduce our dependence on crude oil. It's not going to change the world, but it is going to make a dent."

Sam Mitchell, the president of Valvoline, agreed, saying that, "The market is definitely ready for Valvoline NextGen. This could be a major stepping stone for us. We are making a statement about who we are as a company. We don't do anything subtly."

Part of that message is that NextGen is also backed by the Valvoline Engine Guarantee offer. NextGen is just now starting to hit store shelves in conventional, high-mileage, and synthetic blends. There are a total of ten viscosity weights, and all cost the same as the standard Valvoline oils. NextGen will be available in all Valvoline Instant Oil Change shops in early April. So, we ask again: Would you put used motor oil into your engine?

recycled motor oil refining process



Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by Valvoline. This post has been slightly edited since it was originally published.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 57 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      I know it's probably trickier to collect, and re-refine, but I'd buy a recycled full-synthetic. But, owning a turbo, I wouldn't put anything but full synthetic in it.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yeah - if it were a Group III synthetic I'd buy it for all cars. Varnish buildup can be substantial when using non-synthetic oil depending on the application where using a synthetic oil basically keeps the engine running like new.
      Level4
      • 4 Years Ago
      will it be at least 40% cheaper
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Level4
        the cost of the nextgen oil is slightly higher than the standard durablend, maxlife, and conventional oil. only about $5. it's more expensive because it's produced in small quantities at the moment. once they produce it in bulk, the price may very well drop
      • 4 Years Ago
      I am currently running next gen and today I saw little black specks in my oil was pretty happy until then now im wondering what the specks are
      • 4 Years Ago
      Seems like the perfect compliment to my reusable PurePower oil filter.

      I'd give it a go.
      • 4 Years Ago
      hahahaha hit some chemistry books up then dis this oil.
      Will
      • 2 Years Ago
      I just downloaded a 10$ NextGen coupon for NextGen conventional oil for Advance Auto Parts. Their website lists NextGen conventional oil at 25.95 for a 5+quart bottle. So that is still 15.95 for the bottle with coupon or about the same price as Pennzoil, Castrol or Mobil Super 5000. Are you kidding me?
      • 2 Years Ago
      Back in the '50s and '60s, Maurens-Laurens Oil Company of Los Angeles sold Ray-Lube (and other house brand) "reclaimed" motor oil both to the retail market and to fleets. It was graded as an MM oil (not MS), which would now be the equivalent of API service class SB or SC, and was sold in both detergent and non-detergent forms. Back then, used motor oil was dumped into settling ponds to get the sludge and water separated, then pumped through depth filters at high pressure to remove solids (think Frantz oil cleaner). It was then centrifuged to get the lighter, non-oxidized base oil out, a detergent and anti-foam agent added and into the cans and/or drums it went. I know many fleets and many car owners who used this oil for years without a failure, and know of one guy who ran it in his Briggs & Stratton engines for over 30 years without a lube-related failure. This stuff from Valvoline is MUCH better...GF-5, in fact. Price is an object, though. A lot of the "worry" expressed by some of the mouth-breathers in these comments show more ignroance than anything else.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Thank you so much to all the people who are willing to use their engine to "test" this oil. When it has been out awhile and it doesn't ruin yours, then and only then will I even consider it. Trust an oil company ? LMAO !!!!!
        • 1 Year Ago
        Ur a idiot no1 uses ther car to test oil comps test and test it so they can pass certs that gov puts out if it wasnt up toa safe standard they could not sell it and they wouldnt want to put a bad product out there to hurt ther name anyway shows what lil u know
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is nothing new. SafetyKleen has had their EcoPower product available on the market for a couple years now. http://www.ecopoweroil.com/
      • 3 Years Ago
      Clearly people here dont have a 3rd grade education in chemistry. A oil is USED oil, it used to sit in the middle of dirt, sand and rocks...
      • 4 Years Ago
      well, i been using Mobil 1 Extended Performance so I'm not going to switch anytime soon
      but I'd use it on my wife's car
      it's not like it has not been re-processed (distillation step is the exact same one so it's just as good as the crude one it not better.
      and since I do my own oil changes I'd keep track of how it compares to the previous oil I used in here car to just verify that it is not breaking down any more than the non recycled one (which I have no doubt it is not going to do so)

      and in the last decade car oil has gone beyond any protection you could get just 10-15 years ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      NextGen is not used oil, It is created from used oil. Does the word recycled mean anything? Did you know your coke cans and coke bottles are recycled? That does not mean they are used, they are RECYCLED. I read some of these comments and it sounds like some of you only read the first paragraph. Basically NextGen oil is NEW oil refined from used oil. Who cares what condition the oil is when it is USED, because after all crude oil has to be refined as well. It is the additives that wear and break down and cause the oil to loose its function plus other foreign materials are gained from the combustion process making the oil inefficient. NextGen simply replaces the additives and filters out the impurity's. Its new oil.
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