Re-refined motor oil “can be used over and over and over and over and over again,” in the words of John Wesley, chief executive officer at Universal Lubricants, which was a formulator for many years and got into re-refining in 2010.
Its product is called Eco Ultra. Universal's refinery in Wichita, Kan., processes drain oil into motor oil and other products. Its closed-loop method controls quality, from the pickup of spent oil to the sale of packaged products that are ready for re-use.
“We collect about 40 million gallons of feedstock per year at car dealers, repair shops and truck terminals, and move 15 million gallons to Wichita, where we produce 9 million gallons of base oil,” Wesley says.
From that the company makes 12 million gallons of products by blending in additives, viscosity improvers and other ingredients. Additives and development of formulations are the expensive part of motor oil, which is why re-refined products cost as much as those made from petroleum.
Base oil from re-refining is the same as that obtained from newly extracted petroleum because oil itself doesn't wear out, Wesley and others in this business point out. But it takes far less energy to turn drain oil into base oil and emits far fewer greenhouse gasses, which means it's “green.” Companies seeking sustainability appreciate this.
One fleet's story
One of those is D&D Sexton Inc., a refrigerated carrier whose 125 tractors and 300 trailer-mounted reefer units have been using Universal's Eco Ultra 15W-40 motor oil since late 2010.
Ed Boes, manager of Sexton's main terminal outside of Joplin, Mo., tested Eco Ultra for about a year before adopting it. Oil analysis showed engines were being protected as well as with regular motor oils. “There's no cost advantage, but doesn't cost any more, either.”
Boes is a fervent believer in the process. “It's re-refined, not recycled. There's a big difference.”
Look for the API ‘Donut'
Is re-refining of motor oil a sound concept? John Martin, now a consulting engineer who retired seven years ago from Lubrizol, the maker of additives, isn't sure about the process because there are no industry standards for it. But he acknowledges the truth of the axiom, “Oil doesn't wear out, it just gets dirty, and the additives wear out.”
Put the oil through a cleaning and refining process, which suppliers say they do, reblend it with a good additive package, and test it to be sure it meets American Petroleum Institute's performance standards, and the product can be trusted, Martin says.
“The API donut is good assurance because it is a licensing process. If they've got that donut, they're good to go.”
“They're real strict about that,” Martin says of API officials and their donut label, which is earned through prescribed testing. “They've caught some suppliers cheating in the past, and they really go after them.”
Most major oil companies are not into re-refining, but any that are must be very careful with products they sell, he adds. “You're trusting the people you're dealing with. If the company is a name-brand supplier, they don't want to do anything that would tarnish that name.”
An example is Valvoline, which recently introduced its NextGen motor oil that is a 50-50 blend of virgin and re-refined base oils, along with a proper additive package. It uses only 50% recycled oil because availability of high quality re-refined base oils is limited, the company says. Martin agrees and thinks it will become more scarce.