AskPatty Interviews Universal Lubricants' John Wesley on the Power of Recycled Oil
Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an hour with Mr. John Wesley, CEO of Universal Lubricants, to talk about the latest trends in motor oil manufacturing. We've talked about synthetics like G-Oil and re-refined products like Valvoline Nextgen here on the blog before, but this is the first interview we've done with someone in the industry, and it was truly enlightening.
First, some history. Universal Lubricants has been around for a while - I was surprised to learn that the company is nearly a century old. Founded in 1929, Universal Lubricants is nearly as old as the auto industry itself. It was founded as a seller of branded lubricants to the budding automotive, railroad, and agricultural industries in the Dakotas, and over time their influence extended across the midwest and into the southwest. Ever the pioneering company, Universal cut the ribbon on their re-refinery in August of 2009 and started creating an amazing product - recycled motor oil.
The process of re-refining is an elegant one. Universal Lubricants brings in dirty, used, and otherwise spent motor oil from auto dealers, service centers, and anywhere that burns oil. "Historically," John says, "used oil would be sold for use in burners or to make asphalt, or it could be used as a supplement fuel oil in sea vessels." When it came to recycling oil, the options were limited. Now, the spent stuff goes through a process similar to distillation and the product is a clear, pristine product known as a Group 2 Base Oil, which then becomes a new recycled motor oil. The truly beautiful part of the process, to John, is the endless circle of recycling. "There's no end to it - you can do that over and over again," he says with pride and - dare I say it - glee - "It's a closed loop." I share his joy here - it's a truly elegant system Universal Lubricants has here. They collect used oil, re-refine it, resell it, and then, once used, they collect it and do it all again. This oil can be re-refined indefinitely, and that's an amazing thing. I was also surprised to learn that all re-refined oils are semi-synthetic. Service locations don't separate the petroleum based oils from the synthetics when they collect them for recycling, so some synthetics always enter the re-refining process too - on the chemical level there's no difference, as far as the process is concerned.
Universal Lubricants sets themselves apart not only by handling the product from start to finish, but also in the amount of recycled product that goes into their product. Their official stance is that their oil is 70% recycled product - but according go John, "Sometimes it's even higher than 70%. We put as much recycled product as we can into it, so sometimes it's more." I was curious as to what the other 30% may be, as I'm sure many of you are. "Additives - detergents, anti-foam.. the stuff that makes motor oil motor oil. The additives that are in any motor oil," he explained. There's also just a touch of new motor oil used - "Synthetic lubricants, and group 3 lubricant with synthetic properties." That's a necessary step, he explains, but he prides himself on using the highest content of re-refined oil in industry, and I admire that.
The opportunity to talk oil with Mr. Wesley was truly a joy. He's clearly passionate about his product, and about the elegance of the Universal Lubricants "closed loop" system, and he should be. It's a great accomplishment. Universal Lubricants' re-refined oils are resold under both the Universal Lubricants and the Universal ECO Ultra brand. You can find more information on Universal Lubricants and their products by visiting the Universal Lubricants website.
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