More to the point, Pennzoil’s Ultra Platinum synthetic oil utilises natural gas for its base, marking a break from regular and synthetic oils that are typically built on a base of crude. The natural gas is synthesised into a crystal-clear liquid, the main component in the final motor-oil blend. Pennzoil claims that the product safeguards fuel economy, engine components and performance.
The base liquid comes out of Qatar, the site of a $20bn lab, a joint project between Shell and Qatar Petroleum that has been in development for four decades, Shell says. The company says it is the only manufacturer using natural gas instead of crude to create such a product.
“The more technology under the bonnet, the better the fuel economy,” said Dr Richard Dixon, Shell’s North America Motor Oil Technology Manager, at a launch event on 16 April during the New York auto show.
Dixon says that the new oil meets or exceeds most automakers’ standards for engine oil – about seven out of ten carmakers recommended synthetic oils in the crankcases, he says – and contains proprietary additives, including a “friction modifier” to control wear of moving parts.
However novel the chemistry, the greatest benefits, at least for Shell, may be from a PR standpoint.
“All lubricants have to meet a certain standard, so these [from Shell] aren’t unique in that way,” said Stephen Ames of SBA Consulting, a long-time adviser to the lubrications industry based near Cleveland, Ohio. For now, he says, Shell has the edge in promoting the gas-to-oil process, “since they’re the only ones in the world doing that.”
The process in Qatar involves creating a synthetic gas by exposing methane from natural gas to pure oxygen. At that point, the synthetic gas is converted to a liquid called “syncrude”. Syncrude is hydrocracked – essentially, the molecules are broken down – and distilled into the finished base oil.
In the US, the base is shipped to Shell’s lubricants-blending plant in Houston, Texas, and Dixon says that it is cheaper to produce than the typical gold-coloured oils distilled from crude.
Among the major players partnering with Pennzoil are Ferrari, Ducati and motorsport mogul Roger Penske, who was on hand in New York to promote the product.
Shell has backed an hour-long documentary called Breaking Barriers, which chronicles the chase of land-speed records over the years. The film focuses on the achievements of Craig Breedlove, the five-time world record holder and first person to reach 400, 500 and 600 miles per hour in various turbo-jet versions of Spirit of America, and the later efforts of hyper-speed habitué John Hennessey of Hennessey Performance.
Builder of the Lotus Exige-based Venom GT (pictured above), Hennessey notes in the film that the 7-litre V8 engine in the limited-build supercar was greased with Pennzoil Ultra Premium, in part because of its ability to reduce friction among moving parts at high engine speeds. Hennessey’s efforts culminated with the Venom hitting 270mph in February 2014, an unofficial record for a production car.