Universal Lubricants picks up drain oil at automotive dealers, repair shops and truck terminals.
What are you doing with the spent oil from your engines? Most fleets are reusing it somehow, perhaps by burning it in special furnaces to heat the shops or selling it to a recycler who'll put it to other uses. Drain oil was once dumped or given away, but since the rise of petroleum prices on world markets, it now brings as much as 95 cents a gallon.
About 1.1 billion gallons of drain oil comes out of automotive crankcases every year, and a large amount is collected for reuse, one study says. Much of it is burned to make asphalt, to fuel steamships and for space heating.
That use is lamented by people at oil re-refining companies, who preach that once burned the oil is gone forever. However, if the drain oil is turned into fresh motor oil, grease and other lubes, they say, it goes through another life cycle and can continue to do so almost indefinitely.
The largest re-refiner in the U.S. and Canada is Safety-Kleen, which collects about 200 million gallons of drain oil from 115,000 service locations across the country. From that it produces 160 million gallons of motor oil and other lubricants.
The reclaimed oil undergoes analytical testing to make sure it's high enough quality to enter the re-refining process. Safety-Kleen, now a unit of Clean Harbors, has been in operation since 1923. Since 1988 the company has processed more than 2.5 billion gallons
“In ‘88 we started producing a lot of lubricants — motor oil, but also hydraulic oil and greases,” explains Barry McCabe, director of marketing in the company's oil re-refining division.
Every year Safety-Kleen collects about 200 million gallons of drain oil, which is hauled to refineries in Indiana and Ontario.
Safety-Kleen's re-refining process uses vacuum distillation and hy-drotreating to remove contaminants such as fuel, water, sulfur and dirt from used oil. This produces new base oil. Additives are blended into the base oil. It takes 42 gallons of crude oil to make the same amount of engine oil produced from recycling 1 gallon of drain oil, the company says.
Safety-Kleen also collects spent engine coolant, McCabe says, but in the same tank trucks that gather oil and grease. The refining process de-hydrates the mixture and strips out the glycol, which is captured for reuse. This is processed and remarketed separately.
Safety-Kleen's Eco-Power motor oils have been sold since the late 1980s. Its 15W-40 CJ-4/SM heavy-duty oil recently passed a 1-million-mile engine teardown test. Last month, Detroit Diesel certified the oil for use in its DD series engines.
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