Motor Quotient: Team ICB talks to Mr John Wesley, the CEO of Universal Lubricants about Recycled Engine Oil!

Going green is a buzzword that one often tends to associate with large corporations, who have plenty of resources and the odd tax saving reason to change entire production lines or production practices to better suit our planet. But, what if we were to tell you that a moderately sized firm called Universal Lubricants, headquartered at Wichita, Kansas has been at the forefront of producing Recycled Engine Oil in a very unique closed loop process that makes it the world leader in this particular technology?

In a testament, that you don’t need massive scales and resources to do your bit to protect the environment, Universal Lubricants has gone ahead to do what petroleum giants like Shell and Mobil are yet to do. In our continuing endevour to encourage and highlight the latest environmental trends in the automotive industry, Team ICB talks to Universal Lubricants’ CEO Mr John Wesley, who took time to answer a diverse set of questions that we shot off at him.

Mr John Wesley, the CEO of Universal Lubricants

Mr John Wesley, the CEO of Universal Lubricants

Team ICB: Kicking things off, Mr Wesley, could you please give us a brief introduction about yourself and your firm, Universal Lubricants?

Mr John Wesley: Thank you for taking the time to conduct this electronic interview for IndianCarsBikes. To introduce myself, I’m John Wesley, chief executive officer of Universal Lubricants, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas. Universal Lubricants was founded in 1929, with the advent of the internal combustion engine to compound, package and distribute petroleum products. Over the three quarters of a century of company’s operations, we’ve changed a great deal since our earliest days.

For the past four decades, Universal Lubricants has been an American leader in used oil collection, new oil refining and distribution. Unlike other companies that simply bottle re-refined oil, Universal collects, refines, blends and re-distributes its own green motor oil ensuring that every quart, every gallon consistently is of the highest quality for optimal performance. We never lose guardianship within the chain, making us the only closed loop provider of motor oil. And that’s a big deal to me for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, over 1.3 billion gallons of oil is produced in the U.S. each year, and only 10 percent of it is re-refined. The rest of the used oil is either improperly disposed of, or burned as an industrial fuel thereby eliminating a reusable energy resource and severely damaging our environment.  Using re-refined (or recycled oil) cuts fossil fuel use, lowers emissions and reduces environmental impact. It also ensures that used oil does not find its way into our water supply where it can have a myriad of harmful effects.

In fact, the oil from one oil change for a single car can contaminate 1 million gallons of water. And lastly, conserving our oil resources can lessen our dependency on foreign and other crude oil sources; cuts the down on energy use as compared to the traditional process of drilling and refining crude oil.

Everyday, my job is to guarantee that Universal Lubricants’ ECO ULTRA, the recycled (re-refined) motor oil product, has one of the highest percentages of recycled oil that boasts superior quality. So yes, Universal Lubricants is a company with a difference because we are entirely committed to environmental best practices and sustainability, as reflected both in our processes and our products.

Team ICB: Heading straight into the business end of the spectrum, could you tell us what exactly a motorist who has been using conventional mineral oils or synthetic motor oil will notice when he shifts to ECO ULTRA?

Mr John Wesley: Frankly, most motorists wouldn’t be able to distinguish a difference between conventional motor oils and ECO ULTRA. That’s because ECO ULTRA, the eco-friendly choice, also meets and exceeds API standards, just the larger branded products do. As a product, motor oil is approximately 85% oil and 15% additives (detergent, anti-foaming stabilizers, etc.) and it is the latter 15% which breaks down, necessitating oil changes.

Since the oil molecules retain their chemical composition, spent motor oil simply needs to be cleaned (removing contaminants and the worn out additives) and re-refined into API approved base oil then infused with a totally new state of the art additive package, to transform what was once thought of as a waste discharge into a top-grade product that ensures the best possible engine performance. So the distinguishing factor at play here is not engine performance, but manufacturing process.

When comparing motor oil made from crude to re-refined options such as ECO ULTRA, bear in mind that ECO ULTRA uses 89% less energy and emits 69% less greenhouse gases during production, all while meeting exacting industry standards. In short, ECO ULTRA offers auto enthusiasts the opportunity not only to make the right choice for their engines, but the environment, too.

Team ICB: Alright now, what makes ECO ULTRA different from the other brands of recycled oil available in the market, like the ones from Safety Kleen and Valvoline? Why should one buy ECO ULTRA, apart from the other similar brands in the market?

Mr John Wesley: First of all, let me say that I am so pleased to observe other companies taking part in the green motor oil revolution. Valvoline’s NextGen and Safety-Kleen’s EcoPower are helping to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil and to protect our natural resources. That said, I do believe ECO ULTRA will become a mainstream product in the market, due in part to Universal Lubricants’ sheer commitment to being a leader in this green motor oil movement.

Closed Loop Re-refining Process Artwork

Closed Loop Re-refining Process Artwork

ECO ULTRA as a product boasts the highest percentage of recycled oils in every bottle. That means, for every four quart oil change that uses ECO ULTRA, America’s need to import foreign oil is reduced by two barrels. That number adds up quickly to a substantial decrease. And again, our company takes its commitment to sustainability above and beyond by distinguishing itself as the only “closed-loop” manufacturer of recycled oil in the country.

Universal Lubricants collects, re-refines, blends, packages and redistributes its own oil—never losing guardianship within the chain. This cycle is infinitely repeatable and as such, is the most sustainable car care practice in existence. So, armed with a little research, I think many consumers will agree that ECO ULTRA is the smart choice, the right choice.

Team ICB: Could you please explain the process of making recycled oil and how it is different from conventional mineral oils?

Mr John Wesley: Universal Lubricants, pioneering the green motor oil revolution, endeavored to design a sophisticated re-refining process, which actually treats used motor oil in the same manner as crude. The company does so by implementing a sequence of four steps: (1) flash distillation, removing water, fuel and other contaminants; (2) thin film evaporation, eliminating metals and heavier particles; (3) hydro treatment, refreshing the oil molecules; and (4) a final distillation, eradicating any trace contaminants lingering in the stock and separating the group II oil into separate grades, ready for blending with a fresh additive package.

Team ICB: How much pricier is recycled oil than conventionally made motor oils?

Mr John Wesley: ECO ULTRA is about the same price as high performance motor oils on shelves today. Prices may vary depending on the retailer’s or installer’s business practices.

Team ICB: While you use used oil to make the ECO ULTRA motor oil, shouldn’t the price of the new oil be cheaper than the conventional mineral oil as you already have a base to work with?

Mr John Wesley: At Universal Lubricants, we do our very best to offer our customers top-quality products, and offer them at competitive prices. To that end, Universal Lubricants formed its Environmental Services division in 1998 to complement our full line of lubricant-related services. We seek to simplify our customers’ maintenance operations, saving them time and money. We do that through our closed loop process, in which Universal Lubricants collects, re-refines, blends and distributes all of its own products, including ECO ULTRA.

In doing so, we’re confident that each and every quart of our product is of the highest quality, whereas other companies can only guess as much, as they outsource their blending and servicing operations. So in truth, a lot of detailed oriented work goes into each bottle of ECO ULTRA, more so than one might originally suspect, which accounts for our pricing to be on par with that of most conventional motor oils.

Team ICB:  Also, what is the justification for a consumer to pay more for recycled oil, apart from the environmental benefits, that recycled oil brings to the table?

Mr John Wesley: From Universal Lubricants’ business perspective, the used oil feed stock we use to produce our ECO ULTRA line is actually cost compatible with crude oil. And remember, Universal Lubricants is the only motor oil re-refiner to implement the closed loop process. We reclaim the used motor oil from our customers, and then transport it to our state-of-the-art re-refinery in Wichita, KS– one of only four such facilities in the entire U.S. Here, the spent oil is cleansed of impurities and blended with superior additives to produce the ECO ULTRA line of premium lubricants meeting the latest API SN and ILSAC GF-5 specifications.

Eco Ultra Recycled Motor Oil Logo

Eco Ultra Recycled Motor Oil Logo

And so, when a customer selects ECO ULTRA, I believe he or she does so in part because of the compelling environmental benefits, but also out of recognition that ECO ULTRA reduces America’s dependency on a finite natural resource, often controlled by regimes with interests contrary to our own. The every average four quart oil change using ECO ULTRA eliminates the need to import two barrels of oil—this adds up.

Team ICB: Does recycled oil have exactly the same engine protecting properties of conventional mineral oils or does it have a greater or lesser protecting property?

Mr John Wesley: This question taps into a prevalent misconception that recycled motor oil must sacrifice engine performance to benefit the environment. Like leading motor oils, re-refined motor oils such as ECO ULTRA meet and exceed the toughest standards for performance and engine protection. In fact, the performance is proven. ECO ULTRA is an American Petroleum Institute (API) certified motor oil.

It also has one of the highest percentages of recycled oil content and meets Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) requirements and current vehicle manufacturers’ specifications as well. What’s more, the U.S. Department of Defense and many other federal agencies have been using re-refined motor oil for over 20 years. This includes U.S. military vehicles, which often operate in the most adverse conditions and rely on the recycled motor oil to guarantee optimal performance.

Team ICB: How would you convince a customer, especially the motor enthusiast bunch, to buy the ECO ULTRA motor oil, speaking in terms of engine life and performance?

Mr John Wesley: As an industry, there’s a danger in painting the “auto enthusiast” as one-dimensional. Of course car guys care about engine life and performance—which ECO ULTRA delivers—but to indicate that this is their only concern would typecast those with whom we share a passion for automobiles as caricatures.  Who says the motor enthusiast can’t be environmentally minded, too? That’s exactly the point of ECO ULTRA, that the best option for your car can be the right choice for ecosystems your car drives through, as well. It’s choice without compromise.

Team ICB: Could you kindly provide any emperical data or any study, in terms of engine wear/performance over a long period of time say 100,000 miles where recycled oil has proven to be better than conventional mineral/synthetic engine lubricants?

Mr John Wesley: ECO ULTRA motor oils are tested in exactly the same manner as conventional motor, and the results are conclusive—ECO ULTRA consistently performs equally as well, and often better than oils made from virgin base stocks. In fact, Universal Lubricants works with a leading additive supplier to test ECO ULTRA not only in the lab, but in the field under sever conditions and against similar products made from crude oil.

Yet, the most encouraging test has been observing the growth of re-refined motor oils in the market for the past twenty years. Consumers increasingly rely and trust ECO ULTRA motor oils because they provide excellent performance both in passenger car and heavy duty diesel applications.

Universal Lubricants' Re-Refinery at Night

Universal Lubricants' Re-Refinery at Night

Team ICB:  Do you see the motor lubricant industry changing in the times to come with more and more motor oil makes shifting to the use of recycled oil or are we looking at a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon?

Mr John Wesley: I believe the green motor revolution will make a lasting impact.  ECO ULTRA has found great success in the commercial/professional space in a wide range of industries including construction, dealership, retail fleets. As we continue to deepen our impact in these spaces, we’ll seek breath, in addition to depth.

That means extending ECO ULTRA into the consumer market over the next couple of months. Valvoline’s recent NextGen launch has only strengthened Universal Lubricants’ belief that with some outreach and education efforts our part, the average DIY (Do It Yourself) type is ready for ECO ULTRA.

Team ICB: Also, if recycled oils are so much better than mineral oils, then do you think that there should be a legislation change to encourage and implement the manufacture and usage of recycled oil for a cleaner, greener tomorrow? Or do you expect any legislation in the foreseeable future?

Mr John Wesley: Legislation could help grow the recycled oil market, but we are focusing our efforts right now on educating drivers about our products.  Once people understand that recycled motor oil is not only good for your engine, it’s good for the environment—we believe consumers will make the right choice and select ECO ULTRA on their own.

Team ICB: Finally, do you plan to get into developing markets like India, China and Brazil as these countries represent a huge potential in terms of automobile sales in future and also have no real working mechanism(in the case of India) for recycling oil. So getting into India could give Universal Lubricants a first mover advantage in the recycled oil space? Are there any plans as such, in the foreseeable future?

Mr John Wesley: Right now the company is focused on the U.S. market. We operate in 28 facilities in 14 states and employee approximately 350 American workers—and we have our eyes set on expansion. Premiering on Amazon, ECO ULTRA will soon be available nation-wide, a telling sign of Universal Lubricants’ current commitment to extending our operational reach in the U.S. In the future however, I wouldn’t rule out sales overseas.

Team ICB: So, that was Mr John Wesley, the CEO of Universal Lubricants, who took time off to talk to Team ICB about Universal Lubricants’ latest eco friendly ECO Ultra range of engine oils. To know more, you may choose to visit ECO ULTRA’s website: http://ecoultraoil.com/.

Last but certainly not the least, Team ICB would also like to thank Kelly Gerson for enabling this interview. Watch out for our next interview on Motor Quotient coming soon. Meanwhile, we’d appreciate feedback of any kind about this interview to be addressed to contact(at)indiancarsbikes(dot)in or jayprashanth(at)indiancarsbikes(dot)in.

Jayprashanth.M, the Editor of IndianCarsBikes was invited by Universal Lubricants to conduct an electronic interview of their CEO, Mr John Wesley, to know more a new environmentally friendly trend of recycled motor oil, that could soon become the norm across the motor oil industry globally.

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