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Rethinking Used Oil


The continuing evolution of thermal cracking technology has attained another milestone in Malaysia. Aldwich Enviro-Management Sdn Bhd has started up its world-class facility to convert the used oil it collects in Malaysia to diesel fuel.

We are very pleased with the performance of the plant, which is capable of processing 30,000 metric tons of used oil per year, says Chan Kin Meng, Aldwichs chief operating officer. This is a significant achievement for Malaysia and gives our customers an environmentally responsible option for recycling used oil. We are looking at a means of closing the loop from the lubricant supplier to the consumer, and finally to the recycler.

Aldwich is an environmental services and technology company operating throughout peninsular Malaysia. The company also owns and operates a catalyst recycling facility at its site. The oil and gas resources in the South China Sea support a vast petroleum and petrochemical industry on the countrys east coast. Aldwichs plant is strategically located to serve these and other customers. The plant puts Malaysia at the forefront of the worlds used oil recycling and installs them as an innovative technological leader.

For its new plant, located at its facility near Kemaman in the province of Terengganu, Aldwich licensed the Great Northern Processing thermal cracking technology and the trademarked Robys purification process. Great Northerns cracking process was developed in the United States, and the Robys process was developed by the Canadian federal governments CanMet Energy Technology Centre.

The Great Northern thermal cracking process is a refinery-calibre technology. This is a quantum step above other cracking processes in the world and elevates the thermal cracking option for recycling to a new level of acceptability and credibility. It is a commercially and technologically proven method that is now being considered by companies in many areas of the world where the production of recycled base oil is not of interest.

Despite the fact that rerefining of used oil into recycled base oil is an industry that is decades old, it has failed as a market-based solution to the used oil problem and has not made significant inroads into the market. Consumer acceptance of recycled lube oil is low and major oil companies and lubricant blenders have little or no interest in recycled base oil. For example, one report published last year by the Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage concluded, Current policy of the major oil companies is to use only virgin base oil.

The vast majority of used oil collected worldwide ends up being burned directly with little or no treatment. This has been a serious environmental concern worldwide. A report to the European Union by the firm Taylor Nelson Sofres Consulting points out that several studies clearly demonstrate that Member States do not favor regeneration of [used oil], but on the contrary are widely using [used oil] as fuel in industrial installations. The situation in the United States is similar, where 86 percent of used oil goes up in smoke in space heaters, industrial kilns, boilers and furnaces. (See LubesnGreases, January 2005, page 36.)

Thermal cracking separates the used oils metal contaminants in a bottoms stream, while primarily producing diesel fuel. Diesel is easily sold into a large, commodity fuel market – whereas base oil is sold into a relatively smaller specialty market.

Thanks to the relatively lower-cost testing required for diesel fuel and the ability to conform to specifications that are easier to achieve than those for base oil, thermal cracking is becoming the technology of choice, for a variety of reasons. The production of diesel fuel from used oil generates about half the greenhouse gas emissions, compared to diesel fuel derived from crude oil. Studies in Canada and Australia agree on and support that figure.

There are definite economic advantages to producing diesel fuel from used oil. The diesel can be sold as the highest-specification grades DMX or DMA marine gasoil, conforming to ISO standard 8217. When used oil is thermally cracked, however, the resultant diesel fuel is unstable and has an unpleasant odor. This is due to the fluid being high in olefins and diolefins, which make it very unstable and lead to rapid darkening of the fuels color. The Robys process effectively deals with these issues by stabilizing the product and deodorizing it. It does this without the use of any disposable media or catalysts, which also helps make it economical to use in relatively small-scale used oil thermal cracking plants such as the new one in Malaysia.

It was back in 1999 that Chan and his team first became acquainted with the technologies that Aldwich eventually licensed. After years of due diligence and a site visit to Hautrage in the south of Belgium, where another plant is using this cracking technology, Aldwich entered into license agreements and then engaged the services of SNC Lavalin Inc. of Montreal, Canada to complete the basic engineering for the process.

Aldwich returned to Malaysia and awarded the detailed engineering work to a local company. The construction contractor and its work force were also Malaysian. All of the process equipment was built in Malaysian fabrication shops, which are fully equipped for this task since they largely serve the oil and gas industry. The Aldwich team was directly involved in hands-on management of the overall project from beginning to end.

Always keeping an eye on the future, Aldwich is currently funding the development of an innovative and new process that promises to take the level of sulfur in the diesel product to ultra-low levels. If successful, this process could be on line within two years.

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