While the public's perception of rising oil prices is mainly tied to the cost of gasoline, startup SOMS Technologies says its new product can save drivers – and the environment –from the costs of another kind of oil.

That's motor oil, which car manufacturers tell customers to change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. But Valhalla, N.Y.-based SOMS - the latest entrant into the clean auto parts market – says its oil filters can stretch that oil change out to 30,000 miles.

SOMS "microGreen" filters perform this trick by capturing particles as small as 2 microns in size, said Steve Kirchner, SOMS' chief operations officer. Traditional oil filters, which were developed in the early 1970s, can only capture particles 25 microns to 40 microns in size, he said.

In short, "The oil's cleaner longer, and therefore you can use the oil longer," Kirchner said. SOMS's oil filters still need to be changed in between the extended oil change times, but only every 6,000 miles or so, half as often as traditional oil filters.

Added up, these improvements offer savings of up to 70 percent on oil, filter and labor costs, he said – and because the filters keep the oil cleaner and the engine running more efficiently, customers can expect up to a 3 percent improvement on fuel economy as well.

SOMS, which is seeking $4 million in funding, has been developing its oil filter technology for eight years and testing it in fleet vehicles for the past two years, Kirchner said.

Although most of the venture capital activity in transportation has been focused around cars or biofuels, there are a growing, though small, number of component makers emerging. Earlier this year, Achates Power (funded by Sequoia Capital) and EcoMotors (funded by Khosla Ventures) emerged from stealth mode with their efficient opposed piston/opposed cylinder diesel engines. Transonic Combustion (funded by Khosla Ventures and Venrock) also started talking more about its injection system for 100 mile-per-gallon cars.

The engine companies all face an uphill challenge in getting car companies to adopt their technologies. Car companies are notoriously conservative: semiconductor makers say it can take several years to land a design win with an automaker. The payoff comes in the decade plus of sales with embedded controllers. 

SOMS has a potential advantage here: it sells in the aftermarket and the product is cheap. The downside: oil filters cost less than engines.

Still, there's a sizeable market for filters, SOMS' CEO Miles Flamenbaum said. About 485 million oil filters get shipped to the U.S. annually representing $3.4 billion in sales. Worldwide, 1.65 billion oil filters account for close to $9 billion in revenue.

SOMS makes spin-on filters for about 95 percent of the passenger car market, as well as for a range of light-duty and medium-duty pickup trucks, Kirchner said.

The company has received a $504,000 research grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to look into making filters for heavy-duty trucks, he added.

Packs of two filters are now on sale for $45 to $60, he said - about two to three times the price of traditional filters, Kirchner said.

But he said he's hoping that consumers will find that the savings of making fewer oil and filter changes – as well as the reduction in environmental costs related to disposing of use motor oil – are worth the extra cost.