Massachusetts agencies have been purchasing re-refined motor oil from the state contract since the mid-1990s. Re-refined motor oil is used oil that has been refined to remove the physical and chemical contaminants acquired through use. By itself, or when blended with new lubricating oil or additives, re-refined oil meets applicable American Petroleum Institute (API) service classifications, and is equivalent to the performance standards of "virgin" oil.
Today, re-refined motor oil and other lubricants for use in automotive, heavy-duty diesel and other internal combustion engines, are subject to the same stringent refining, compounding and performance standards as virgin oil. The re-refining technologies now used by several major oil refineries require that used oil be vacuum distilled to remove contaminants such as dirt, water, fuel and used additives, and hydrotreated to remove the remaining chemicals and contaminants from the base oil to restore it to its original condition. Once that process is complete, the highest quality additives are blended into the base stock to fortify and bring the oil to the desired performance standards. These processes are similar to the processes applied to virgin crude oil.
Extensive laboratory testing and purchasing experiences of such volume users as the US Postal Services and the States of Maine, Vermont and New York, among others, and King County, Washington, show that the result is a high quality base stock that is virtually indistinguishable and equivalent in appearance and quality to the virgin counterparts. In addition, the API, which is the basis for most auto and equipment manufacturer warrantees, has certified that these lubricants pass the same cold-start, pumpability, rust-corrosion, engine wear and high temperature viscosity tests as virgin oils do, thus ensuring consistent performance standards for all engine oils. As a result, the major US automobile manufacturers as well as Mercedes Benz and others, now recognize that such re-refined lubricants meet both the industry standards and their individual specifications. In response, they have issued clearly written statements that these products will not void warrantees.
Massachusetts state agencies and departments are also purchasing non-petroleum, or vegetable (oil) based lubricants, also called bio-lubricants. Such bio-lubricants are emerging as a high-performance, environmentally friendly alternative to the more commonly purchased petroleum because they can perform as well or better than petroleum oils, are readily biodegradable, are low in toxicity, offer worker safety advantages and serve to reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum.
While the world relies on oil and other fuels for most of its energy and is likely to do so for years to come, emissions from their production and use have raised concerns. These emissions may be helping to warm our planet by enhancing the natural greenhouse effect of our atmosphere. The contribution of possible man-made warming is uncertain as are the extent and timing of potential future impacts. Nevertheless, the need to take action is clear.
Re-refining oil offers both economic and environmental advantages. Used oil can be re-refined and reused indefinitely, thus eliminating the need to purchase virgin oil. Because recycled oil used to manufacture re-refined oil is not discarded into the waste stream, the recycling/ re-refining process serves to eliminate air pollution from oil incineration and potential water pollution caused by improper dumping. Moreover, purchasing re-refined oil reduces our dependence on foreign oil.
Refining used oil is an energy efficient and environmentally beneficial process. During the process, the contaminants within the used oil are removed. Lubricating additives that were depleted during use are added back into the oil.
Modern re-refining processes have evolved considerably from methods used even as recently as 20 years ago. Methods used back then could not always remove the impurities. This resulted in the misconception that all re-refined oils are inferior to virgin oils. The results of research studies conducted comparing re-refined and virgin oils have consistently indicated that re-refined oils performed as well or better than virgin oils. And the price for re-refined oil is very competitive with that for virgin oil.
Unlike some products, oil is not "used up," nor does it wear out. It does gather impurities during its use in an engine. By removing these impurities, re-refining helps extend the life of the original oil many times over. In fact, re-refining takes only one-third the energy used in obtaining the virgin oil from the crude stock. Moreover, it takes just one gallon of used oil, compared with 42 gallons of crude oil, to produce the same 2.5 quarts of lubricating oil. As such, it is an excellent way to conserve virgin, nonrenewable petroleum resources without compromising quality or increasing spending. It also helps to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. As a renewable resource, re-refined oil represents a more environmentally responsible choice.
Compared to crude oil refining to produce virgin lubricating oil, producing lubricating oil from used motor oil requires less energy, and conserves valuable crude oil, a non-renewable resource. Many state and local agencies, the Federal government, and private companies already use re-refined oil in their vehicle fleets.
- Re-refined motor oil conserves the crude oil supply by re-using the motor oil rather than having to extract additional crude oil from diminishing domestic supplies or importing additional crude oil from foreign countries. For every gallon of used oil recycled, 2.5 quarts of re-refined motor oil can be produced. Buying re-refined motor oil reduces our dependence on foreign oil.
- Conserving our non-renewable oil supplies is not the only benefit. By buying re-refined motor oil, less used motor oil will be used as fuel, resulting in cleaner air (currently, more than half of all used motor oil is recycled into fuel oil cutter stock, where it is blended with off-specification or heavy crude based materials and burned as fuel, resulting in air pollution from phosphates, sulfur, and heavy metals).
- American Petroleum Institute (API) - http://www.api.org/
- American Society for Testing and Materials - www.astm.org/
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/oil.htm
- City of Portland, OR, Case Study: http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=157990