Perspectives With Michael R. Wedding, Senior Application Engineer, Valvoline

By Robin Skibicki, Marketing Coordinator, NGVi

In 1866, Dr. John Ellis founded the Continuous Oil Refining Company. He had developed a highly-effective lubricant while researching medicinal uses for refined crude oil. This product addressed the sticking valves and other issues that were constraining the performance and advancement of the steam engine industry. Dr. Ellis named the product “Valvoline”, referring to “olein”, which is fat or ester. The name and logo were trademarked in 1873, making it the first and oldest trademark in lubrication.

Today, Valvoline serves more than 100 countries, and continues to achieve notable firsts with both products and performance accomplishments. NGVi had the opportunity to speak with Valvoline’s Senior Application Engineer, Michael R. Wedding, about their involvement in the natural gas vehicle market.

How did Valvoline enter the natural gas vehicle and natural gas fueling industry?

Valvoline was producing oils specifically formulated for natural gas fueled vehicles at least as early as the 1990’s. These products were recommended for urban buses, delivery trucks, and other service fleets fueled by CNG, LNG, or propane. They were marketed for use in Cummins, Detroit Diesel, John Deere, and Caterpillar dedicated natural gas engines for vehicular use.

What products do you offer for the natural gas vehicle and natural gas fueling markets?

At this time, our commercial offerings are focused on engine oils formulated for the specific demands of medium- and heavy-duty vehicle engines fueled by 100% natural gas and therefore spark ignited.

Our Premium Blue® GEO products carry the approval and endorsement of Cummins for use in all Cummins Westport engines, as well as approvals from Detroit Diesel, Volvo and others. Our newest GEO product, Premium Blue GEO SAE 5W-40 is the only cold temperature engine oil approved by Cummins to address cold starting issues at extreme low temperatures.

Why do natural gas vehicle engines require different oil than gasoline or diesel engines? 

There are multiple factors to be considered when comparing natural gas and diesel engines. The cleanliness of the natural gas does not necessitate the high levels of alkalinity and dispersants. These additives found in diesel engine oils can cause multiple issues if used in heavy-duty natural gas engines. Extremely hard deposits can form in the combustion chamber when metallic additives are exposed to the elevated combustion temperatures of natural gas. These deposits retain heat causing pre-ignition and/or piston failure. Deposits on the exhaust valve can lead to compression loss and torched valve seats. Additionally, the dispersants needed to keep diesel soot in suspension can suspend water molecules, a by-product of natural gas combustion. This water leads to foaming and poor lubrication.

Light-duty and passenger car manufacturers have not yet recognized a need for differentiation in their engine oil when replacing gasoline with natural gas.

Either extreme cold or heat creates challenges for the transportation industry. How do the oil formulations for natural gas vehicle engines and natural gas compressors perform under these conditions?

Our Premium Blue GEO 5W-40 has been formulated with synthetic base oils for an improved viscosity index and cold temperature performance. This helps to reduce, or may even eliminate, cold starting issues previously experienced with natural gas engines by reducing the power needed to crank the engine and pump the oil. These same synthetic base stocks provide better high temperature oxidation protection.

Both Premium Blue GEO 15W-40 and 5W-40 are specifically formulated to address the needs of the natural gas engines with their high combustion temperatures. The viscosity of our 15W-40 product is comparable to our competitors’ natural gas engine oils.

Both oils have similar viscosity at the operating temperature of the engine. The noteworthy viscosity difference of the two products is at low temperatures. The number before the “W” dictates the cold temperatures at which the oil must meet viscosity limits:

5W evaluated at -30°C (-22°F) and -35°C (-31°F)
15W evaluated at -20°C (-4°F) and -25°C (-13°F)

The number after the “W” (40 in this example) represents the viscosity of the oil as measured at 100°C (212°F).

Is there a Cummins bulletin number addressing this lower viscosity oil? Is there a new Cummins Engineering Standards (CES) number?

CES 20074 continues to be the standard for oils used in Cummins Westport Natural Gas engines. The results of our extensive field testing with Cummins demonstrated the performance required for Cummins to allow Premium Blue GEO 5W-40 labeling as conforming to CES 20074. Cummins is now in the process of updating their specification(s) related to these engines and we expect there to be provisions for testing and approving different viscosity grades.

Can you tell us about any natural gas vehicle fleets that are successfully using Valvoline Premium Blue GEO engine oil?

In a recent video released to the “Valvoline HD” YouTube channel, we discussed two of our Premium Blue GEO customers, and their testimonials. Ozinga Ready Mix may be the most recognizable as they also offer fueling solutions as Ozinga Energy. Dillon Transport is the line-haul operation that is featured in the video, as well. We continue to gain customer accounts, specifically in the colder regions of the country. You can view the YouTube video below, or by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el8nWWK_zOI

Does Valvoline produce synthetic lubricants for natural gas compressors? What are they?

At this time, we do not have a commercially available product for the compressor application. Our Certified Lubrication Specialists often work with our distributors to recommend the best commercially available product when needed to complement our other offerings.

What are the primary advantages of using synthetic oil in a natural gas compressor?
The performance advantage of synthetic base oils is primarily related to the extreme temperature performance. Whenever any gas or air is compressed, the temperature is increased proportionally.

Moving on to more specific industry topics, what are Valvoline’s expectations for natural gas vehicle fueling in North America in the next few years?

Even with the lower fuel prices we are witnessing for diesel and gasoline, we expect that the number of natural gas vehicles and stations will continue to increase. The introduction of the ISX 12G has provided an option to some of the heavier haulers that were hesitant until now. Continued pipeline construction will also increase the availability of natural gas domestically for years to come.

How has the demand for natural gas vehicles and fueling shaped your company’s production? Has it changed its priorities?

If you look at the percentage of production, you may not see any indication of change. Our overall company growth has likely kept fairly close pace with the GEO increases. The difference is in our technology and development efforts. Natural gas vehicle use, particularly in commercial vehicles, is still very much an industry in its infancy; therefore we are motivated to stay ahead of our competition with new and better products. If you recall, we have found this to be a successful strategy since 1866. Valvoline remains a company primarily focused on lubrication.

Why should natural gas vehicle and natural gas fueling customers choose Valvoline? What are your competitive advantages?

We simply have the most advanced engine oils commercially available for heavy-duty natural gas vehicles. What we are equally excited about, however, is our unique position in the industry. Our technical staff enjoys the benefits afforded by operating our own certified engine lab, managing ongoing fleet field tests, and being partnered with the number one on-highway heavy-duty natural gas engine OEM. All of this research and testing enables Valvoline to provide exceptional service and products. Being on the front edge of development is good not only for Valvoline, but also for our customers.


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