Calif. Used Oil Bill Stirs Debate


California is considering a bill that encourages the recycling of used motor oil derived from plant- or animal-based feedstocks. NORA (An Association of Responsible Recyclers) claims it would disrupt the recycling of petroleum-based lubes.

The states Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee voted last month in favor of AB 628, introduced by Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). The bill, which states that biobased lubricants can be recycled along with petroleum-based lubes, is now pending consideration in the Senate.

According to Irvine, Calif.-based Biosynthetic Technologies CEO Allen Barbieri, used oil rerefiner Safety-Kleen, which operates a base oil rerefinery in Newark, Calif., has claimed that recycling biobased lubricants would violate federal rules on rerefining.

Bloom disputes Safety-Kleens interpretation but said he proposed his bill to eliminate any potential confusion. He said the bill merely states that used oil from any source can be recycled.

Bloom implied that significant volumes of used engine oils are not being recycled because of their content of biobased materials. Used motor oil is the largest source of hazardous waste in the state, and all potential solutions…including recycling, need to be encouraged, he said in an April 29 press release.

NORA argued that there are good reasons for not introducing biobased base stocks into the stream of lubricants being recycled. Quite simply, the chemistry of [petroleum-based versus biobased] lubricants is too dissimilar to permit recycling of any mixture of these materials, the association said in an April 17 press release. Moreover, no technology is commercially available that can efficiently separate the animal and plant fat phase of the mixture from the petroleum phase.

To properly recycle both used petroleum-based oil and used biobased material, the market would need a parallel system for storing, collecting, transporting and rerefining biobased materials, NORA added, which would take decades and billions of dollars to implement.

NORA also believes there is currently a disconnect between California and federal definitions of biobased or bio-synthetic motor oils, Executive Director Scott Parker told Lube Report.

It may seem a relatively simple task for California to amend its current definition of used oil to include bio-lubes, NORA said. However, that would not begin to address the problem because the market for used oil is national in scope. Much of the used oil generated in California is recycled in other states. The definition of used oil would need to be amended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as the fifty states and other jurisdictions.

Without federal parameters defining used biobased oil, some NORA members believe that the bill could negatively impact the recycling industrys ability to responsibly collect and process used oil, Parker added.

Parker pointed out that that the association doesnt hold a view for or against the use of nonpetroleum-based lubricants, and is only concerned with how spent motor oil can be responsibly recycled.

Biosynthetic Technologies makes biobased synthetic molecules from plant oil fatty acids, or estolides, which can be used as a renewable feedstock in lubricants manufacturing.