Lubricants and Environment
The lubricant lifecycle begins from the oil well where crude oil is extracted and ends at the rectifying refinery for the production of the base lubricant (Βase Lube Oil).
- Crude oil drilling and extraction and transportation to oil refineries.
- Primary base lubricant production (among other products).
- Mixing of the base lubricant with additives for the production, packaging and merchandise of lubricant products.
- Use of the lubricants until their properties’ effect is over.
- Replacement of the lubricants with new products.
- Lubricant oilwaste collection and transportation to be refined anew (re-refining).
- Re-refined base lubricant production.
- Lifecycle repetition from phase .
Lubricant waste is not the end of the lifecycle, but the beginning of its recycling cycle, which can be perpetuated.
Waste Lubricating Oil (LOW) is toxic waste produced in large amounts. It is hazardous because it contains lots of hazardous compounds which had been added or produced during their use (heavy metals, chlorine, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). It is obvious that bad practices and/or wrong waste disposal can be extremely dangerous both for human lives and the environment.
Recycling (re-refining) is an option. Nowadays, technology is able to recover 100% of useful material and produce high-quality re-refined base lubricants, perfectly compatible to the modern market needs.
Other possible options, though environmentally unfriendly, are the waste lubricating oil disposal (e.g. in the ground or in the drainage), or their use as fuel. These options may have a serious impact on the environment and on our health due to the release of hazardous elements and chemical compounds to the environment.
RE-REFINING: THE SMART AND SAFE WAY
Various lubricant lifecycle analyses have been conducted globally. Those studies assess and compare the possible “lifecycle pathways” of lubricants and waste lubricating oil. These are:
- No measures for the proper waste lubricating oil treatment, resulting in their disposal in available containers and the consumption of crude oil and energy in the production of new lubricants.
- The use of waste lubricating oil as fuel to produce heat and equal-amount lubricants out of crude oil.
- Waste lubricating oil re-refining for the production of lubricants. In this case, the consumption of crude oil for the respective lubricant production is avoided.
Compared to the other two options, it is indicated that the third option, in this waste lubricating oil re-refining process:
- has lower environmental impact (greenhouse effect, acid rain, emissions, hypertrophication etc.),
- does not emit hazardous substances (in contrast, the disposal in the environment, or even the well-controlled incineration of waste lubricating oil, emits heavy metals, dioxins etc.),
- saves natural resources (the production of 1 liter of primary base lubricant requires 100 liters of crude oil, but instead only 1.35 liters of waste lubricating oil is needed and up to 70% less energy is consumed for the production of equal-amount re-refined base mineral oil).
Furthermore, it is well-documented that re-refining:
- creates a large number of working positions (for each employee at the re-refining sector, 10 new vacancies are created).
- promotes the National Economy (waste lubricating oil is a precious raw material) and the circular
TRANSITION TO A CIRCULAR ECONOMY
In a classic (linear) economy, we produce, consume and then throw away everything used. In a circular economy, the idea is to recycle the products, or part of them, in order to reuse them. Whatever is considered as waste can be turned into raw material.
- The industry that supports waste lubricating oil reuse totally incorporates the philosophy of sustainable development in its daily activities.
- The waste lubricating oil can be recycled indefinitely without lowering the quality of the base mineral oils.
- Through re-refining, the waste lubricating oil and the use of precious resources (crude oil) are minimized.
- Re-refining is an energy-effective and technically completely feasible method for the management of waste lubricating oil.
- Almost 70% recovery of base mineral oils as well as of other useful by-products (fuel, asphalt etc) is achieved.
- High-quality base mineral oils production with no harmful substances is achieved.
- Contemporary re-refining technology produces zero or minimal amounts of waste.
The circular economy model has already been promoted by the Directive 98/2008/ΕC, which sets a legal framework for waste management in the European Union (ΕU) and specifies the waste hierarchy: prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery for other purposes –such as energy recovery- and disposal. In particular, article 21 of the Directive specifies the terms and conditions for waste lubricating oil management, according to which:
- The waste lubricating oils should be collected separately.
- The waste lubricating oils should undergo, as a matter of priority, a procedure with regeneration (=recycling for base lubricant oil production).
- The mixing of mineral oil waste with different properties as well as their mixing with other types of waste or substances is prohibited (e.g. solvents, brake fluids, anti-freezing fluids).
As a continuation of Directive 98/2008/ΕC about waste, in December of 2015, the European Union approved a set of measures in order to facilitate Europe’s transition to a circular economy. The revised legal framework aims to instigate competitiveness in a global scale, to invigorate sustainable economic growth and to create new working positions.
Considering that almost only 13% of the total sum of mineral oils consumed within the EU originate from waste lubricating oil and the rest 87% is primary mineral oils originating from crude oil refinement, the members of the European Re-refining Industry section of UEIL (GEIR) suggest that the revised legislative proposal about waste should specify objectives for the collection and regeneration of waste lubricating oil.
QUANTITATIVE OBJECTIVES FOR THE COLLECTION AND REGENERATION OF WASTE LUBRICATING OIL AT EU LEVEL:
- By 2020
- 95% of the collectable waste lubricating oils in every Member State should be collected.
- 60% of the collectable waste lubricating oils in every Member State should be regenerated (Objective 1).
- By 2025
- 100% of the collectable waste lubricating oils in every Member State should be collected.
- 85% of the collectable waste lubricating oils in every Member State should be regenerated (Objective 2).
Aiming to a transition towards a European Society with high-level resources efficiency, the setting of objectives for lubricant oil waste collection and regeneration ensures a stable and harmonized application of the waste hierarchy and at the same time guarantees the natural resources minimization.