Oil is extremely important for keeping vehicles running smoothly and efficiently. However, once oil has been used in an engine, it needs to be properly disposed of. More and more, used motor oil is being recycled rather than simply thrown away. This article explores the growing trend of automotive oil recycling and how it benefits both the environment and the economy.
The Oil Recycling Process
The process of recycling used motor oil involves collecting the oil from locations like auto repair shops, gas stations, and oil change facilities. The oil is then transported to a recycling facility where it undergoes an intricate refining process to remove any contaminants and filter out waste. At the facility, the oil is heated in large vacuum distillation units that separate out reusable oil base stocks from other elements like sludge and additives. Modern oil recycling plants use state-of-the-art technology to efficiently refine used oil back to its original composition.
Once purified, the recycled motor oil can be re-refined for a variety of purposes. Some possibilities include using it to produce new lubricating oils, greases, diesel and home heating fuels. In certain cases, the recycled oil may even meet the same high quality standards as fresh crude oil originally used to manufacture new lubricants. This allows automotive oil to potentially have multiple life cycles through recycling rather than ending up as waste.
Benefits of Oil Recycling
There are significant environmental advantages to recycling used motor oil rather than simple disposal. Reusing oil prevents millions of gallons from entering landfills or sewage systems each year, where it can contaminate soil and water supplies. By recycling up to 75% of the oil collected, less demand is placed on drilling for new crude oil reserves. This oil recycling effort has cut U.S. dependency on imported oil by more than 100 million barrels annually.
Beyond environmental protection, oil recycling has grown into a $340 million industry in the United States. The recycled products meet important needs across many sectors such as manufacturing lubricants, fuel additives and asphalt. Recycled motor oil recycling helps support thousands of jobs and provides cost savings compared to using only new materials. With improved collection methods, there is opportunity for oil recycling rates and associated economic benefits to increase even further in coming years.
Collecting More Used Oil
While recycling programs have expanded significantly, only an estimated 40% of used motor oil produced in the U.S. is currently collected for refinement. The other 60% is still improperly poured down drains or otherwise illegally discarded which damages the environment. Efforts are ongoing to plug this “leak” in the system and capture more of the estimated 1 billion gallons of used oil generated annually. Strategies aim to raise awareness of proper disposal facilities and establish convenient collection centers across retail auto parts locations and municipal sites.
Some new technology assists collection as well. For example, “oil Vac” units make it simple for do-it-yourself oil changers to easily dispose of used oil instead of potentially mishandling it at home. Federal grants help fund local recycling infrastructure and education programs. Ultimately, increasing collection rates will help recycling facilities operate more efficiently while further reducing environmental impacts compared to excess used oil entering the natural environment untreated.
The Impact of High-Quality Recycled Oil
As recycling technology and processes continue to improve, the quality of recycled motor oil increases each year. Modern recycling plants can refine used oil as thoroughly as large oil refineries process crude petroleum. Tests show recycled motor oil meets all American Petroleum Institute quality specifications for new oils. This means garages, factories and other industrial operations that demand high lubricity can confidently purchase recycled oil rather than limiting it to less demanding applications.
Supporting the growth of a recycling-based “circular economy” for motor oil means its impact can be even greater. Recycled materials displaced increased amounts of newly produced equivalents like lubricants, asphalt and heating fuels. At the same time, treating used oil as a recyclable resource rather than waste promotes responsible environmental stewardship. With commitments across all sectors, recycling programs could potentially divert up to 100% of domestic used motor oil away from improper disposal paths in the future.
As Automotive oil recycling methods and infrastructure continue to evolve, the approach is demonstrating clear environmental and economic advantages over oil disposal. With improved collection filling the gaps, refining technology enhancing oil quality, and expanding high-quality product uses, recycling can fulfill a growing share of materials demand. This “second life” approach brings benefits including reduced need for new oil reserves, jobs supported, and protection of invaluable land and water resources. With collaboration industrywide and from individual participants as well, the modern motor oil being efficiently collected and refined has the potential to sustain a circular system for responsible reuse.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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