Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Taking the "waste” out of waste oil

October 11, 2010
Global warming is a hotly debated subject and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. While questions regarding society’s impact on the earth continue, there are several concerning facts that businesses have begun to address. In the automotive service industry, one topic of concern is the decreasing supply of crude oil in conjunction with rapidly increasing demand.

As lubricant prices continue to climb, businesses have sought ways to break their bonds from traditional oil companies. The most promising alternative is the use of recycled motor oil. Contracting a waste oil hauler that recycles motor oil allows businesses to close the chain. The chain remains intact as long as the operator purchases recycled motor oil and contacts a waste oil hauler that supplies a facility that produces base stock from the oil. This arrangement allows for motor oil to be used repeatedly.

It would be naïve to think economics are not involved in the decision to recycle or dispose of materials in a destructive fashion. Fortunately, recycled motor oil has been around for decades, proving to be reliable in some of the largest and most demanding fleets in North America. UPS, Waste Management and the U.S. Postal Service have proven recycled oil to be economical and reliable, even in the harsh stop-and-go environments in which their vehicles operate.

Just the facts
Service station owners have a moral responsibility to protect the environment. Usually such obligations come at a cost. Using recycled motor oil is a rare case where this is not true. Recycled motor oils are typically comparably priced and in some cases, cheaper than virgin oils.

Unfortunately, there are obstacles to widespread adoption of recycling and reuse of motor oil. Recycled or reused products often have a stigma associated with them. Individuals that do not understand the technical aspects of re-refining motor oil have misconceptions about the quality of recycled motor oil. The biggest myth is that motor oil wears out with use. In actuality, motor oil does get dirty as one of oil’s purposes is to suspend contaminants and transport particulate contaminants to the oil filter. The additive package added to motor oil also deteriorates over time. These two factors necessitate oil changes.

The refining process
The re-refining process is understood by few, yet the procedure is actually quite simple. There are two steps in the process:
  • Vacuum distillation; and
  • Hydrofinishing.
Vacuum distillation starts with a load of used lubricant known as feed stock. The stock is screened and material that is outside the parameters of what is required for the project is rejected and used in creating lower quality products. Accepted feed stock is subjected to a chemical pre-treatment to aid in subsequent steps. The first of which is dehydration where feed stock is heated to evacuate water in the form of steam.

After the removal of water, feed stock is subjected to vacuum distillation. In this process, feed stock is mechanically separated into three constituents: gasoil, lube oil distillates and asphalt flux. Gasoil is the most valuable resultant and is used as refinery fuel. Asphalt flux is the least desired byproduct and is used in applications like roofing materials. The largest result from vacuum distillation is lube oil distillates.

The distillates are then subjected to the second and final step, hydrofinishing. This step involves a process known as hydrotreatment. Lube oil distillates are mixed with hydrogen gas and heated over metallic catalysts inside a reactor. This is repeated at successively higher temperatures to produce base stock of the quality that would be extracted from crude oil. The base stock can now be transported to a lubricant blender for manufacture into finished lubricants. As industrial processes go, it is a simple procedure to recycled motor oil. Compare this to the energy and logistics required to procure virgin oil from locations around the world.

Re-refined motor oil is subjected to the same industry standards as virgin products. All API licensed motor oils must pass an extensive battery of tests before it receives API’s approval. Once certified, re-refined oils fulfill requirements specified by auto makers. Automakers such as Ford, GM, Chrysler and Mercedes have made statements to the effect that using an API oil, recycled or not, is required to maintain factory warranties.

Life cycle of motor oil
Liability is another factor encouraging service station operators to recycle their used oil. It has been established that the owner of motor oil is responsible for it from cradle to grave. When oil is recycled, it is expediently processed to create new base oil. The liability has ceased at that point. Oil that is used in other manners is often shuffled from one storage complex to another, creating a myriad possibilities for accidental release in transport. Being labeled as a potentially responsible party (PRP) by the Environmental Protection Agency is the last thing anyone wants.

In the end, the question of global warming is moot. Recycling and using recycled oil decreases operator liability and efficiently uses a finite resource. Contact your oil distributor to find out what recycled products are available in your area.

John Denholm is the environmental compliance and purchasing officer for Oil Changer, Inc. For more information, contact Denholm via email at: