The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy issued a report to Congress Dec. 23 advising that the level of used lubricant rerefining in the country could increase and that more information about used lubes should be disseminated.
The report concludes a two-year update to a 2006 study that expressed pessimism about rerefining, finding that the United States lagged Europe because equipment was too expensive and margins too slim.
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The change in disposition apparently stems from shifts in the types of base stocks that the lubricants industry uses, which has raised the quality of waste oil and therefore the quality of base stocks that can be produced by rerefining.
“Collections of these higher quality used motor oils can allow for future efficiencies within the rerefining process and produce higher quality base oils and other products down the value chain,” Acting Under Secretary of Energy Steven Winberg said in a news release. “This finding encouraged our team to look for more effective and efficient ways to support the reuse of used oil.”
The office predicts that rerefining rates will increase, estimating that the country consumed 2.47 billion gallons of lubes in 2018 and that 1.37 billion gallons of waste oil was available for collection and reuse. The office concluded, though, that more information needs to be available if lube recycling rates are to be maximized.
“Accurate analysis of the used oil marketplace in the United States is currently hindered by a lack of detailed data regarding the volumes of oil lost in use, the volumes collected and remaining uncollected, volumes that are improperly disposed of, volumes burned legally and volumes processed and re-used but ultimately not rerefined,” the report stated.
The office said industry also needs improved methods for detecting and preventing used oil contamination with toxic constituents – such as poly-chlorinated biphenyls – which complicated the recycling process. It also advised that government make certain that environmental regulations encourage the collection and re-use of used oil and protect the environment.
The newly released report is titled, “Used Oil Management and Beneficial Options to Address Section 1: Energy Savings from Lubricating Oil Public Law 115-345.” It was written on the December 2018 direction of Congress that the Secretary of Energy, in cooperation with the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the director of the Office of Management and Budget, review and update the report, “Used Oil Re-refining Update of the 2006 Used Oil Re-refining study to Address Energy Policy Act of 2005, Section 1838.”
To gather information for this year’s study, the department met on multiple occasions with representatives of key stakeholder groups within the used oil sector. The Department of Energy also held a public meeting on Oct. 16, 2019, at its offices in Washington, D.C. to engage a wider variety of stakeholders and gather additional input.
In the new study, the Department of Energy concluded that primary stakeholders all agree on a broad set of recommendations to improve market performance and identify industry trends in several ways: recognizing the benefits of increasing used oil collections, reducing improper disposal by dumping or adding to landfill, and encouraging the collection and publication of improved and regularly updated industry data.
The 188-page report is available for download at the Department of Energy website.