How Ultra-Low-Ash Engine Oil Can Save You Money


Tier 4 Final engine aftertreatment is a costly maintenance necessity, but the type of engine oil you use can significantly cut down on the hit to your wallet.

On this episode of The Dirt, we learn about Chevron’s ultra-low-ash engine oil from Keith D. Shaw, the company’s global OEM manager for the heavy duty truck and non-road section.

Shaw explains that the main culprit in dirty diesel particulate filters is ash left over from the engine oil. That’s because ash is a metal that does not burn off.

But with Chevron’s Delo 600 ADF ultra-low-ash heavy-duty engine oil, construction equipment owners are seeing two and a half times longer intervals on DPF changes, Shaw reports.

For that reason, he says, contractors should take a fresh look at their engine oil program, especially if they’re using the same product for the past 15 years or longer. It’s just not equipped for today’s diesel emissions aftertreatment systems, and it’s causing DPFs to require changing much sooner than they should.

To learn more about the importance of ultra-low-ash engine oil and how it can save you money and downtime, check out the latest episode of The Dirt.

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In This Episode:

00:00 - Why Is Low Ash Engine Oil Important?

00:34 - What Is Low Ash Engine Oil and Why Is It Needed?

02:22 - Is Engine Oil Ash the Same as Diesel Particulate?

03:40 - What Causes DPFs to Get Dirty?

04:43 - Does Switching Engine Oils Help You Save On Aftertreatment Maintenance?

06:14 - How Can You Find a Low Ash Engine Oil?

06:55 - What Are the Challenges With Creating New Engine Oil? 08:23 - How Do I Find the Lowest Ash Engine Oil?

08:40 - How Do I Find Engine Oil for Alternative Fuel Engines? 14:13 - Why the Non-Road Segment Is the Hardest to Develop Engine Oil For

15:30 - Delo 600 ADF Is a High-Tech Oil, but Better Formulations Are Coming

16:48 - Final Thoughts


Bryan (00:00):

Today we're here to talk about oil, specifically low ash engine oil. Why is this a thing? Why do we keep talking about it and why does it matter to you as a contractor? That's exactly what we're going to talk to Keith Shaw with Chevron about today. He's going to give us a breakdown of why we even have to worry about this, what it does for us, and kind of an insight into the future of engine oils in this space.

Keith Shaw (00:35):

Low ash came into our nomenclature back when API introduced CJ4. And at that time, CJ4 came about because of the advanced aftertreatment systems that OEMs were putting on the equipment to meet the regulations and so you know, the DOCs, DPFs, SCRs, which our users are familiar with. And at that time, low ash really meant no more than 1% sulfated ash in your formulation. And in previous formulations, CI4s or CH4s had 1.5 or more sulfated ash, which we really didn't need with the aftertreatment systems and ultra-low sulfur diesel. So today, an API CK-4 product is 1%.


Chevron, about 15 years ago, started working on further elevating what the term low ash meant and then came up with ultra-low ash. And ultra-low ash for us is 0.5% or less, and that's where we are today. And when you look at it and say, well, why are we obsessed with ash or why can't I use the same product I used 15, 20 years ago? And it really gets down to two things. One is the engines are running much different today. Smaller engines doing more work, they run a lot hotter. Hotter is better in a lot of these applications.


Plus, you have the aftertreatment system, which in a lot of cases these aftertreatment systems are becoming almost equivalent in footprint to what the engine block holds. You got to not only deal with the engine, but the aftertreatment system. And the cost of these aftertreatment systems continue to increase, whether it's from CARB or EPA emission restrictions get tighter and the aftertreatment systems get better and better. So that's why it's using an oil that maybe you wanted to use 15, 20 years ago or looking at the old technology, it just doesn't work for the whole system anymore.

Bryan (02:21):

So one thing I do want to clarify because I think the industry still struggles with this concept, is engine oil ash the same as diesel particulate and if not, how are they different?

Keith Shaw (02:35):

It's a good point, especially in the non-road industry where we deal with a lot of particulate matter or soot, and that's really unburned fuel. And because of the various operating conditions that the equipment goes through, from it could be heavy idle times, 20, 30% idle to full-out usage and different weather conditions, you get a lot of unburned diesel fuel in that system which gets carried into the aftertreatment system, your DPF and even what the oil has to handle.


So soot continues to be a problem, particularly in the non-road. Ash is basically a metal that's found mostly primarily in the engine oil additive system. And that, when it gets into the DPF, unlike soot which gets burned off during a regeneration, the ash doesn't get burned. It's metal, it just gets left behind. So again, why one of the focuses we had on trying to move to an ultra-low ash philosophy, which is remove as much ash as you can, enable it to disperse the particulate matter, the soot that's being generated that much better, and that's a difference globally.

Bryan (03:40):

So really, when I have to down my machine, remove the DPF and send it off for a cleaning, that is not because of dirty burning diesel, it's really because of the byproducts of my engine oil that are causing that sort of maintenance issue.

Keith Shaw (03:53):

Correct. And again, for non-road, you see this challenge of, well, I've got heavy idle periods, I've got maybe cold weather that I have to operate in, so I'm starting, stopping, and the engine never gets fully hot enough to do a good regeneration, so that ash just continues to build up and you consume more oil when you idle as well.


So that's what you're cleaning out in the DPF. And that's why, I deal with a lot of customers, and they say, "Well, I'm supposed to get 5,000 hours out of my DPF life, but I'm cleaning it at 3,000." Well yeah, because maybe you're running harder, you have more idle, you have more oil consumption. So all this comes into play on why your DPF service intervals may vary quite a lot depending on location or what type of equipment it is, excavator versus ultra.

Bryan (04:42):

Interesting. So if I'm understanding this correctly, just by switching my oil formulation on these newer pieces of equipment that have these aftertreatment systems, you're actually going to extend your maintenance intervals as far as aftertreatment system maintenance. It probably will save you cost on the aftertreatment system maintenance because you can extend those intervals?

Keith Shaw (05:04):

Absolutely. And we say on our Delo 600 ADF up to two and a half times benefit on this, on your DPF service intervals. I've done enough very long-term tests with OEMs where we get at the end of 10,000 hours, the DPF isn't even half full. We are getting massive extensions, and this isn't just oh, one test here or there. This is multiple pieces of equipment, multiple applications, and this is kind of what we see.


So we feel pretty safe in saying two and a half times because our testing, OEM testing, has proven much greater. And when you're looking at an operation that if you went back five years, Bryan, maybe 20% of your fleet's Tier 4 Finals. Well, that's not true anymore, right? Because they're having to repower, they're buying new equipment, so now it's 30, 40%. You have pending legislation that CARB wants to push through for stage five for off-highway equipment. I mean, it's really getting severe. You've got to take a fresh look at your oil program and say, "What can I do to help?" Because you can't fight it, it's not going back. And so what can I do to help myself in this new world?

Bryan (06:13):

And now that I've kind of put together all of the pieces and I'm understanding why this low ash formulation is so significant to me, when I go to the store, when I go to my oil supplier, whenever I'm going to pick out an engine oil, are all of these low ash formulations the same? Is there something I can look at on the jug? How do I go find an ultra-low ash or low ash formulation when I go pick out my oil?

Keith Shaw (06:36):

Right? So user goes to pick something off the shelf today and it says API CK4 or CJ4, hey, that's probably 1% sulfated ash. And it's not going to say it on the label, but that's just an understanding that that's what it is. For us on the ultra-low ash, we do put that there. We talk about the DPS service life on the label, and that's something to look for.


And I think the challenge with going from 1% to let's say an ultra-low ash of 0.5% or even to 0.4% where we are is really just looking at the coverage that you have to have. It's not just qualifying for API CK4. You've got to meet all the various OEM recommendations and approvals for let's say a Cummins, Detroit diesel, Volvo, et cetera. And that's really costly. So traditionally when we look at, in the past when we've gone from, we go from CH4, we go to CI4, we go to CJ4, CK4, the traditional formulation approach is take what we have, tweak it a little bit, improve it. Maybe we mess with the base oil a little bit and we take incremental steps.


The ultra-low ash formulation was completely a different approach. It was strip it down to bare bones and start it all over again using novel technology, novel additive systems that would work. And so that's why it took us 15 years to get everything right. Because in the middle we went from CJ4 to CK4, we had other things that we wanted to do, OEM's changed things. But that's kind of the landscape that we're in is this concept of I'm incrementally going to make the oil better, we're running out of space to make it that much better. There's only so much you can do without saying, "I need to take a whole fresh approach and let's look at something totally different."

Bryan (08:23):

So if I'm understanding you correctly, if I want the lowest ash formulation on the market, Chevron is currently the only supplier who has that low of an ash content?

Keith Shaw (08:34):

Correct. We're the only one that has a fully qualified product with a major OEM approval that's been proven out there. And a lot of users I talked to are now having to entertain diverse fuel options. Do you really want to have, I've got my diesel engine oil qualification program, maybe I would have some natural gas trucks or I'm looking at something else. How many oils do you want?

Bryan (08:57):

You led me right to my next question, which was exactly that. Now that we're modernizing our fleets, like you said, I even think at this day and age, probably 30 to 40% of the fleet having some sort of emissions aftertreatment is probably on the low side. I would say most of your contractors are probably 80% by this time. And now we're starting to introduce this whole concept of, well, we might go with natural gas, we might go with hydrogen. Who knows what we're going to do.


Now what am I supposed to do as a contractor? Do I need 18 different oil formulations on my lube truck or is this something that I can kind of have a one size fits all?

Keith Shaw (10:48):

When it comes to natural gas engines, there's no API category for natural gas engines. There's no formal qualification program that we all go through. It's OEM-led by Cummins. They're the dominant supplier, whether it's 9-liter, 6-liter, 9-liter, 12-liter and coming up with their 15-liter natural gas engines. And that is, I'll say Cummins does a great job and that's a pretty rigorous program. I mean, you're talking two years of testing on multiple units with different operating conditions and engine tear downs and the whole bit.


And so Delo 600 ADF is one of those products that's fully accredited on the diesel side. And we have the Cummins CES 20092. So if I'm running natural gas haul trucks, waste trucks, and I've got my yellow metal out there that needs a diesel engine oil, well, great. We're just going to use one product.


And I think, Bryan, one of the other things to consider is now it's not just diesel. Biodiesel mixes, we're seeing more users ask us, "Hey, I'm thinking about using B100." They're bidding on contracts or what have you, so you have that. And so there's this whole discussion of how that biodiesel not just impacts the engine, but how it impacts the aftertreatment system.


So I'm having discussions and we've been working with a couple of major non-road OEMs on multiple fuel options that they see going forward in the marketplace. So one could be somewhere up to B100s, how high can we go without any detriment to my aftertreatment system and my engine and my maintenance program. RNG, which is renewable natural gas, CNG, no difference between those two. So if you're good on Cummins, you're good. But now hydrogen and methanol. I had a conversation; we had a meeting with one OEM that lasted two hours. We covered diesel, biodiesel, renewable diesel, natural gas, renewable natural gas, we covered hydrogen, we covered methanol, ICEs, all, I mean...

Bryan (12:50):

I mean, I can imagine the challenge for you guys to try to cover all of those, that's huge.

Keith Shaw (12:56):

It becomes daunting, right? Because we've got a new API category coming up and as they're looking at PC-12, OEMs keep changing the specs. You can't expect that end user to have five different engine oils on his truck and it just doesn't work. And so we know we're good with the diesel variations and natural gas. We are testing this Delo 600 ADF on H2 and methanol. So we have those tests underway. Those will be a little bit longer term, industry's not fully ready yet.


But that's our concept is to have a fuel agnostic engine oil, if you will, and then try and not jeopardize the maintenance schedules and gains the people have made. You're increasing oil drain intervals; you want to increase your DPF service life. Well, you don't want to go backwards just because you started using a biodiesel mix or what have you. And the hydrogen engine, ICE, just like natural gas runs a lot hotter. Different aftertreatment system, but it runs hotter. So you have to worry about that. You have to worry about water, you have to worry about different things. So again, I don't want to have such different maintenance schedules and products to be used on my fleet.

Bryan (14:13):

I tell you, it is interesting, the more interviews I conduct with the folks at Chevron, the more I'm just starting to grasp the complexity of what goes into these formulations and the testing behind them. We on the ignorant side of the table just think it goes in an engine, the engine gets hot, and it's just got to lubricate it. But the more I learn about this, the more I understand there's so much beyond that that goes into these formulations.

Keith Shaw (14:37):

And really, I think the non-road to me, that segment poses the greatest challenge simply because of just the demanding operating conditions that exist. And we're dealing with a lot of remote applications and people tend to think, well, it's non-road, okay, so they just have a bunch of yellow metal out there, but that's not true. They cross over and they have heavy duty trucks, vocational trucks, other trucks, to haul the equipment around.


So you're dealing with probably the most diverse fleets out of anybody that could imagine. And the challenge there is because of the remoteness and everything is simplicity. I've got to reduce complexity. That's what we talk about within Chevron all the time, is how can we eliminate complexity from the end user? How can we use fluids and make it across the board? What can we do to help them? And that's just the biggest challenge I see.

Bryan (15:30):

Well, Keith, thank you so much for all of this information. I know it's helped me fully understand how ash plays into this and why these formulations are even a thing and I think today we've kind of broken that down to where now I understand this is actually a critical game changer for a lot of us in the field that are running all of these Tier 4 Final machines. This is a huge thing that we should be looking at.

Keith Shaw (15:50):

Bryan, I was thinking about this the other day. It's almost like the change we had years ago on base oils where we had group one and then the big movement, why should I use a group two base oil? And then it quickly spiraled into group threes and what have you to get more and more pure oils. And the formulations really went from, well, maybe I am using two or three or four different oils because I want to pinpoint what I'm trying to do.


And I think the additive in going into this ultra-low ash is really moving into that space. I mean, we're making huge jumps in this technology. So yeah, I can keep massaging what's worked for last 15, 20 years, but it's not going to take us forward. So that's kind of what I'm looking at is that we ran a whole thing on base oils, and we've really fine-tuned that and the technology's so severe, but I think now it's the additive technology is just really advancing.

Bryan (16:42):

Very interesting. Well, thank you again for the time. This has been fantastic.

Keith Shaw (16:45):

Yep. Thank you, Bryan. Appreciate it.

Bryan (16:47):

Well, thank you again for Keith coming on the show. And as always, thank you to Chevron for coming on and breaking down some of the technology that's going on inside these engines and some of the peripheral systems and kind of explaining to us why these engine oils matter. So as always, I hope this helps you and your business. We'll catch you on the next episode of The Dirt.