As our climate future looks increasingly bleak and starts becoming our terrifying present, the auto industry is becoming more creative to keep our motors running. Car Autance has written about sustainable synthetic fuels in the past and now another interesting innovation has arrived in the fossil fuel world: renewable motor oil.
Havoline, owned by Chevron, has released a new oil called Havoline PRO-RS, its first apparently renewable motor oil. There is a fine print of course because it’s not fully renewable motor oil. It actually is a mixture of 25-percent “sustainably sourced” plant-based oils manufactured by an interesting and potentially not-so-little company called Novvi, a joint venture between serious petrochemical companies like Chevron and biotechnical company Amyris.
Sustainable fuels have been a hot ticket in recent discussions with Formula One and with major automakers investing in these kinds of fuels. A more sustainable motor oil available to consumers is perhaps the first sustainable petroleum-based product consumers will see on shelves. It’s a fascinating approach to the issue of sustainability with fossil fuels and we’re here to find out how and if it will scale and grow to the needs of the industry at large.
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Havoline has released a “sustainable” motor oil positioned at the very top of its product range called PRO-RS (it’s got its own website and everything). 25-percent of the oil is made up of plant-based oils, while the rest seems to be normal petroleum-based oils though it is unclear what is actually in the rest of the oil. According to Havoline, it uses parent company Chevron’s ECOSTRENGTH tech that allows them to make synthetic oils with these plant-based and other renewable base stocks.
It is not the first renewable bio-synthetic motor oil, with some small companies offering a similar product for more niche markets. Strangely, I’ve seen a small explosion of high-performance plant-based motor oils in the Wankel rotary community and the racing community like Evolve Lubricants and the widely available Renewable Lubricants that is available on Amazon.
The adoption of this technology by a major petrochemical company is mighty serious. Whether it is a true step towards a better future for internal combustion or if it’s a PR stunt from Chevron and Havoline is yet to be seen, but the niches of the market are certainly teeming with interest in this new, potentially higher-performing form of motor oil.
Why It Matters
First things first, renewable motor oil is undoubtedly a good thing, conceptually. While synthetic fuels have substantial scalability and energy consumption problems thanks to the nature of chemical energy densities, lubricants have a comparably easier job. Motor oil also can be recycled and reused for other things, unlike fuels that need to be burned to have use. Of course, there are hoopties out there that use oil as food as well as gasoline.
An interesting point about these plant-based oils is that they seem to actually perform better than a comparable synthetic oil. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “biosynthetic oils achieved superior performance in many critical performance areas” like wear, viscosity index, and friction.” If such is the case for Havoline’s offering and others, the future for performance internal combustion engine enthusiasts is plenty bright.
As an aside, the term synthetic oil is something of a misnomer. Oils are generally categorized as conventional, semi-synthetic, and synthetic. The primary difference between the conventional and synthetic ends of the oil spectrum are additive packages and the quality of the base oil, not that the oil itself is somehow synthesized or artificial. Synthetic oils are still petroleum-based oils and not at all from renewable or alternative sources.
To achieve this new oil, Chevron partnered with a seemingly small company named Novvi, which actually manufactures the 25-percent plant-based oil in PRO-RS. Car Autance did a little bit of digging into the company and it has a history beyond its current involvement with Chevron. Novvi was founded in 2011 by a join venture between the aforementioned biotechnical company Amyris and Brazilian energy giant Cosan according to this SEC filing. Cosan owns Moove, which handles the global production and distribution of Mobil lubricants, as well as three other companies related to energy production.
It seems that Cosan has since divested from Novvi and Chevron has taken its place. Certainly, Novvi has had ties to larger companies from the start and has likely intended to position itself this way for some time. Novvi now enjoys a few other key investors like Hansen and Rosenthal USA and American Refining Group Inc.
Seeing this much corporate interest in sustainable lubricants is encouraging to see. Cost has yet to be announced for the new oil, but Chevron has stated that it will be positioned above its top PRO-DS synthetic oil. It’s likely that these oils will be noticeably more expensive than normal synthetic oil. Also, it’s USDA-certified biobased product.
What To Look For Next
If a giant like Chevron is releasing a consumer-grade partial bio-oil, the dominos for the rest of the major petrochemical players should soon start to topple. Provided that the oil isn’t horribly expensive to purchase, this will provide an interesting path for enthusiasts to take when time comes for their next oil change. If the performance benefits of these plant-based oils are true, and they certainly seem to be, there may be a decent market for them yet.
Havoline plans to have the oil available to professional installers starting November 1, 2021 and for general consumers in early-2022. I’m personally quite curious about this oil and may just pick some up for a future track day in my GTI. Until then, the dinosaurs will do.
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