How Castrol is reinventing the oil change

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Future of lubrication: what are Nexcel's three advantages?

Last edited: 28 January 2016

Discover more about the Castrol development described as one of the ‘biggest leaps forward in the history of vehicle servicing’

Hot, messy and time-consuming. Ask any mechanic to describe an oil change and those may be just some of the words associated with a process that has scarcely evolved since the birth of the motor car.

But that oil change process is set to alter beyond all recognition with the launch of a new technology from Castrol innoVentures, called Nexcel. After working on it behind the scenes for more than three years, Nexcel project director Steven Goodier explains how a simple ‘box’ may revolutionize the automotive industry – with benefits for drivers, service providers and manufacturers alike.

What exactly is this ‘box’ and how does it work?

“Nexcel is an easy-to-change unit – or oil cell – that fits under the car bonnet and swaps out an engine’s oil in 90 seconds, rather than 20 minutes which is about how long the process takes now. 

The unit contains both engine oil and the filter – and the whole cell is replaced at each service, solving a fundamental problem in vehicle servicing; ask any mechanic and they’ll tell you that an oil change, until now, has been dirty and hot, with the potential to cause minor injury."

For those who don’t know, what’s involved in that ‘traditional’ oil change?

"The process hasn’t really changed since the first motor cars came on the roads and it’s a bit of an embarrassment in how it’s done really. The vehicle is left to run on idle to allow the oil viscosity to reduce and make it easier for the oil to run out of the engine; the car is then lifted to give the technician access underneath and a bolt at the engine’s base unscrewed to let the oil drain out for collection.
The heated engine allows the oil to flow more easily, but technicians are obviously working with a hot engine that could have surface temperatures up to 150˚ Celsius.  Oil can have a tendency to splash when the bolt is removed and technicians also need to reach up and remove the oil filter, which can be located in all manner of awkward spots. They run the risk of being burned by components should they touch the wrong part. 

It can take up to 20 minutes. We’ve talked to a number of different technicians in independent workshops during the project and they recognize the benefits of a safer, quicker operation that allows them to increase their business capacity due to shorter turnaround times. With more cars on the roads in future, there will be greater pressure on the service industry than ever, so this system would allow skilled technicians to spend their time better."

So, how does Nexcel replicate this process of collecting the oil from the engine?

"As well as the oil and filter, the cell contains a micro-chip and oil level and quality sensors. It conducts a full oil-change in 90 seconds by drawing the used oil out of the engine parts and collecting it back in the cell. This old cell is lifted out by hand and once the replacement is docked, the pump mechanism works in reverse to push the fresh oil back into the engine. We’ve found the process works equally well on either hot or cold engines."

What happens to the Nexcel oil cells once they have been used?

"After use, the cells are collected from the service provider and the oil can be re-refined to produce more lubricant products. Given the volumes of engine oil that are disposed of each year globally, this option is far more sustainable: a significant amount of used engine oil is currently burned and only around 10 % is re-refined and converted back into a base oil."†

How will drivers see the benefits of the technology?

"Since the Nexcel unit is filled with Castrol product, it paves the way for next-generation engine oils that improve fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions on the road cars of tomorrow. There’s also the time factor – a motorist may not have to leave their car off the road so long when it goes for a service."

Where has Nexcel been fitted so far?

"For now, the Aston Martin Vulcan track-only supercar is the first vehicle fitted with the Nexcel technology. It’s a huge coup for this innovation to be part of the Vulcan – when we set up the project, we wanted to work with a vehicle manufacturer in our earliest stages and Aston Martin is a great fit for us. 

Fitting Nexcel into a high-performance, low-volume car allowed us to accelerate the technology’s development and expediency to market. Now, we’re in discussions with other vehicle manufacturers to make Nexcel a mass-market reality and expect to see it go into production on road cars within five years."

This new technology seems like a simple solution to an awkward vehicle service activity. Why hasn’t this been done before?

"I think it takes the right moment – and the right company – to seize an idea and make it a reality. This innovation really speaks to some of Castrol’s core values around pushing boundaries and pioneering technology. It’s not easy to do this – you need investment, the right contacts with vehicle manufacturers and insight into the industry, as well as a great team of global experts.

Although the project has been led from BP’s Technology Centre in Pangbourne, UK, there has been input from our colleagues across the world. There’s been a great sense of excitement surrounding the project, so many people have wanted to get involved in this game-changing development for the industry.”
†Source: Kline Used Oil survey 2009

The view from Aston Martin

Dr Andy Palmer, chief executive

“We believe that the Aston Martin Vulcan sets a whole new standard in the ultra-high luxury supercar class, just as the Nexcel technology sets a whole new standard in engine lubrication. It therefore made perfect sense for us to bring these two innovations in engineering together and showcase their capabilities.”

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