Sustainability

Mainstreaming Waste Oil Rerefining
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Mainstreaming Waste Oil Rerefining

By Simon Johns - Oct 10, 2022

The time is now for rerefined base oil. Fear of climate change is reaching a crescendo, especially among young consumers. It’s the perfect moment for this valuable resource to go mainstream, say industry insiders on both sides of the Atlantic.

The world consumes 37 million metric tons of lubricants each year. A small amount of that is collected and rerefined into base oil. The rest is incinerated to produce energy, used as marine fuel or dumped illegally. 

Lawmakers in the West are legislating to decarbonize the economy by more effectively managing waste and promoting resource circularity. Rerefined, or regenerated, waste oil has major sustainability advantages and helps with carbon neutral goals either side of the Atlantic.

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Closed Loop

Craig Linington, Clean Harbors’ executive vice president responsible for U.S. rerefiner Safety-Kleen, describes rerefining as a “closed loop business” with a far better carbon footprint than virgin base oil. The company found that lubricants using rerefined base oil saved 7,500 metric tons of greenhouse gases for every 3.78 million liters used.

The current industry preoccupation with sustainability is an opportunity for the rerefining industry to take center stage. 

“From large blenders who are under pressure from investors, as well as pending government regulations, looking to reduce their own Scope 1 and 2 emissions … right down to the end customers, especially,” Linington told Sustainability InSite. 

Safety-Kleen’s figures are borne out by GEIR, the trade association that represents European rerefiners’ interests. In 2005, it carried out its first lifecycle analysis of rerefined base oil. Rerefined base oil’s carbon dioxide footprint was 30-50% less than virgin fossil-fuel derived materials, the LCA found.

In its as-yet unpublished LCA, GEIR calculated that to be 70-80% that of a virgin base oil. Its reduced carbon footprint is attractive to lubricant blenders looking to source base stocks with a lower carbon footprint. It can help them meet climate change legislation aimed at carbon-intensive companies. 

Sustainable Resource

Waste streams are an existing and important renewable carbon resource, explained Raoul Meys, cofounder of Carbon Minds. Carbon Minds is a carbon cycle data provider that helps petrochemicals companies reduce the environmental impacts of chemicals and plastics.

The EU’s waste legislation encourages the use of waste carbon in the most environmentally friendly ways, Meys told Sustainability InSite. Recycling it replaces other waste treatment options such incineration and the production of lubricating oils from virgin and fossil raw materials. 

“On the way to the European decarbonization and sustainability goals, recycling of waste oils will certainly play an important role,” he said.

After waiting in the wings, factors are aligning that will help mainstream the rerefining sector.

“It’s finally exciting to see the recognition being given to re-refined base oils and the advantages they bring to the marketplace.” said Turner. “High quality and sustainability make for a timely message in today’s world.”

This is an abridged version of the full length article in November’s edition of Lubes’n’Greases magazine.