Finished Lubricants

Not Easy Being Green


As Kermit the frog so famously sings, Its not easy being green. Green is bland; you blend in with everything and dont stand out. Ultimately Kermit decides that green isnt so bad after all, reasoning that its the color of spring; and cool and friendly-like; big like an ocean, or important like a mountain; and I think its what I want to be.

Green Earth Technologies has also embraced the hue, and is eager to stand out from the crowd. What are they doing thats so green? Last year, the company said it had created the first passenger car motor oil to meet the engine sequence test requirements of the American Petroleum Institutes oil licensing system – and which also achieves Ultimate biodegradability. Its still awaiting approval of its API SM license application at this writing, but G-Oil SAE 10W-30 is due into retailers in early 2009.

First the standard information: Green Earth Technologies is a Stamford, Conn.-based startup (Pink Sheets: GETG) with a research and development laboratory in Burlingame, Calif., and a manufacturing, packaging and distribution subsidiary in Detroit. G-brand lubricants, including a two-cycle smoke-free oil, four-cycle marine oils and specialty oils, are manufactured and packaged in Guymon, Okla. The companys line of appearance products are manufactured in Philadelphia, and packaged and warehoused in Detroit.

Besides G-Oil Green Motor Oil, it offers a wide range of automotive performance and appearance chemicals: G-Lube, G-Wash, G-Glass, G-Clean, G-Scent, G-Wheel, G-Protect and G-Tire. Many are now available at The Home Depot, Kroger, VIP, National Auto, Fred Meyer, participating Ace & True Value dealers, Redners, Trader Horns, The Andersons, Biggs, Bennett Auto, Franks Auto Supermarket and All are biodegradable.

GET was founded in June 2007. Although its stock peaked at $4.59 last July, more recently the shares traded in the $1 range; a majority of the outstanding stock is owned by employees and related parties. The company has eight full-time employees and a network of over 100 commissioned sales representatives; it uses custom blenders to supply its products.

The concepts leading to Green Earth Technologies were developed by Mathew Zuckerman (Dr. Mat as his friends and associates call him). Zuckerman, the companys chairman and chief operating officer, holds degrees in environmental, civil and chemical engineering, including a Ph.D. from New York University, and also went to Stanford Business School as an Alfred P. Sloan Executive Fellow. In classic startup style, he started GET in 2004 in his garage.

From studying environmental engineering, Zuckerman learned the need to engineer biodegradability into products, so they are compatible with the environment and can be processed by natural systems. The task is difficult because both performance and biodegradability are required from the active ingredients. As he put it, Industry has been synthesizing chemicals that perform, but might as well be extraterrestrial in origin, since no biological system on earth can degrade them into useful materials.

While working in the area of lipid chemistry, he saw the potential for replacing petroleum for many applications with animal and plant fats and oils. Zuckerman also was seeking biodegradable products for the consumer market. The breakthrough, he says, came from applying nanotechnology, where active ingredients that give the product performance are bought by the pound – and sold by the square inch.

Nanotechnology? Thats the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. In its original sense, nanotechnology refers to the ability to construct items from the bottom up; the first discussions on the topic (in the late 1950s) revolved around the idea of building machines small enough to construct objects at the molecular level. The focus was on computer technology, such as increased density of computer chips.

Over time, the emphasis in nanotechnology shifted to the idea of molecular manufacturing, or tailor-making molecules to do specific tasks. Using nanotechnology, chemists can bend and twist molecules, causing them to react at the right time and in the right place to create new, useful materials. For example, medical applications could include drugs that target specific conditions, and technical applications might include specific composite materials for certain severe environments such as nuclear or aerospace. According to chemical giant BASF, 95 percent of the commercial nanotech applications will be in the chemicals arena – where GET operates.

Zuckerman reasoned that if a proper material could be produced, it would have the necessary physical and chemical properties to provide lubrication and at the same time be biodegradable. Such a molecule would have a specific shape that would allow it to be consumed by bacteria, while having the necessary stability, viscosity and other critical characteristics to provide good lubrication.

With that in mind, he sought the ideal design for such a base stock. Fortunately, there were some road signs that helped with the search. For example, low-molecular-weight (2 cSt) PAO is biodegradable. However, its viscosity (too low) and volatility (too high) are not suitable for engine oil applications. Nanotechnology allowed him to design just the right material to do the job: a nanoized C16 to C20 saturated hydrocarbon that bacteria can chew on and that also provides the volatility, viscosity and low-temperature fluidity to meet the specific requirements of an engine oil base stock.

The next step was to find a feedstock which could be manipulated to make the proper molecule. Green Earth Technologies last February formed a strategic relationship with Bio-Tec Fuel and Chemicals in Oklahoma to process animal fats into the base stock needed for their line of products, which include two- and four-cycle oils for small engines. The process is such that for each barrel of animal fat processed, about a barrel of biodegradable base stock is produced. Or, as the company calculates, one cow can supply enough fat for 110 quarts of motor oil.

The first commercial products produced by Green Earth Technologies were a series of biodegradable car-care and cleaning products. Next they introduced both TC and TC-W3 two-cycle oils for marine engines. The appeal of biodegradability for two-cycle engine oil, especially for water-cooled applications, is apparent. By meeting TC-W3 marine performance and ASTM D5864 ultimate biodegradability standards, Green Earth Technologies says it has a distinct advantage in the marketplace – especially in light of moves by some states to severely limit outboard motor use on lakes and other waterways. The oil has another unique advantage in that it mixes with gasoline containing ethanol, while many two-cycle oils become either partially or completely insoluble, fall to the bottom of the gasoline can, and fail to circulate in the engine. This unique miscibility in ethanol occurs because its product is polar, the company explained.

Most recently, GET has developed G-Oil Green Motor Oil, which the company reports meets API Service SM standards. It is currently awaiting API licensing of the product, to be available in five grades: SAE 5W-20, SAE 5W-30, SAE 10W-30, SAE 10W-40 and SAE 30. While pricing has not been set, it is projected to be about $1 per quart less than premium oils such as Mobil 1 synthetic or Valvoline MaxLife. The company says G-Oil also can be used to top off synthetic or mineral oil based lubricants, and is 100 percent miscible with these commercially available motor oils. GET says G-Oil is compatible with the drain intervals specified in automotive manufacturers operating manuals; it does not recommend extended drain intervals.

As for biodegradability, GET says the 10W-30 degraded over 90 percent in just nine days in ASTM D5864, way faster than the 60 percent in 28 days needed for the standards Ultimate rating.

Zuckerman worked on the formulation details himself, creating the finished product from components available from various additive suppliers. It contains the usual cast of additive characters: detergents, dispersants, zinc dithiophosphate antiwear agents, antifoam compounds, pour-point depressants, antioxidants and viscosity index improvers. The test program was run at a third-party lab in San Antonio, Texas, and Zuckerman told LubesnGreases that the Sequence IIIG was the most difficult to pass (which is no news to oil formulators and additive suppliers).

One test notable by its absence from G-Oils program is the Sequence VIB, the fuel economy retention test that is a prerequisite for licensing to the ILSAC GF-4 specification. The addition of GF-4 performance to the oil could make it a formidable product in the marketplace. GET said it is working on ground-breaking nanotechnology in friction modifiers, which may help with this.

Meanwhile, it has completed racing trials with Kinetic Motorsports and dyno testing at Roush Yates Engines, and its new racing oil will be in all Kinetic race cars for the Grand-Am Koni race at Daytona in late January.

Green Earth Technologies also has introduced G-Oil to automakers, where it was well received, reported Zuckerman. The winning appeal is the combination of equal or superior performance with no premium charged for being green – truly the second wave of green products. Automotive OEMs are said to be interested in biodegradable products, as part of their effort to make as much of the vehicle recyclable or biodegradable as possible, so that even when it is scrapped it will be relatively harmless in the environment. The fluids in the vehicle are a major source of concern as they are not biodegradable.

What is the future for Green Earth Technologies? In its first annual report, in June 2008, President and CEO Jeff Marshall stated, Green Earth is committed to quality… In 2008 and 2009 [we] will be developing new products, enhancing our existing product line and consumer satisfaction.

Recently, Green Earth Technologies entered into an agreement with outdoor-equipment maker Ryobi to supply G-Oil two-cycle engine oil with every gasoline-powered unit sold. In addition, Techtronic Industries (Ryobis parent company) will distribute G-Oil to all retail outlets selling Ryobi products. This comes after TTI extensively tested the oil in its equipment and found that it met all performance requirements.

Zuckerman is busy working on the next phase of G-Oil Green Engine Oil, developing additive components which are based on the same biodegradable backbone as the oil itself. That will ensure even greater compatibility with the environment, he said. In the meantime, work is progressing on a hydraulic oil, a promising market given the extensive use of hydraulics in construction and other outdoor applications.

LubesnGreases asked about GETs philosophy regarding biodegradability. Through a spokesperson, the company agreed that used G-Oil motor oil must be collected and disposed like any other. Recycled oil is not biodegradable oil, it stated. We adhere to the four ideologies of being green; environmental safe (MSDS sheet is 0 for toxicity); renewable (domestically grown animal fats); biodegradable (ultimate biodegradability which is ASTMs highest standard); and recyclable. G-Oil is safe with no carbon emissions during production.

In addition, most retailers have spills from the shelf on a regular basis, the statement continued. Our product can be cleaned up and others should require HazMat treatment. This is a very practical application of what biodegradability means.

So what is green? Green is renewable, recyclable, biodegradable, earth friendly, environmentally friendly and a host of other adjectives. And green is sustainable. Actually, Kermit the Frog is singing, its cool to be green. The challenge for GET is to also make green profitable.