The next time you have the oil
changed in your car, you might want to ask what happens to it.
In many cases, it’s burned as fuel
after being hauled away.
Old oil never dies. It just gets
contaminated — and contaminates.
“If there’s a leak or spill on the
ground, oil just doesn’t stay in one place. Rain infiltrates the soil, and
contaminated oil can make its way into aquifers that supply people with drinking
water,” says David Weindorf, professor of Soil Conservation and Land Use at
Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center.
A single oil change produces
enough toxic waste to contaminate one million gallons of fresh water, according
to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Americans consume about 19 million
barrels of oil a day, and waste oil from industrial plants—industry accounts for
half of America’s oil consumption — may be handled as hazardous waste, depending
on its chemical additives.
The solution is oil purification,
a three-decade-old technology
for industrial systems, that’s not only affordable, but also generates revenue
for the companies that use it.
Oil purification is a
technology that, paradoxically, is still trying to get itself noticed. The
Research Association’s website, for instance, does not
mention it in its “Tips for Conserving Energy in Industries.”
So why isn’t every plant operator
jumping all over this?
“Most people just aren’t aware of
it,” says Haig Hachadoorian, founder of PetroTech
, a leading manufacturer of on-site oil purification
systems. “And if they are, they’re not aware of its tremendous benefits.”
For the most part, he says, plant
managers have their waste oil hauled away. Then it’s burned as fuel or sold to a
“I think it’s a matter of
education,” says Dennis Santare, Director of Business Development, AAR Aircraft Component
, which recently joined forces with PetroTech. “If the
manufacturers don’t understand the savings involved, they don’t see the need for
The implications of real-time oil
recycling, on both the consumption and environmental fronts, are enormous. Yet,
according to Hachadoorian, who patented a vacuum-distillation oil purification
system in 1978, a scant 5 percent of all industrial plants in the U.S. are
restoring and reusing their oil.
One reason, says a spokesman at
the American Petroleum Institute is that “a plant would have to have a large
amount of oil to process,” as well as technically skilled employees, to justify
Santare disputes that. “Even small
to mid-size plants will break even in a matter of months on new oil costs
alone,” he says, adding that operating the unit requires no special training.
One industrial manufacturer that
has seen the green in oil reclamation is Weber Metals
, a company that forges aluminum and titanium for the
Weber’s plant currently uses two
PetroTech units full-time to purify hydraulic oil from its presses. According to
Bob Naumann, VP of facilities, the units recover up to 95 percent of the oil his
“I went from 1,000 gallons of
waste oil a month to 1,000 gallons every year,” says Naumann.
You don’t have to be a math whiz
to figure out how much Naumann is saving in oil purchases. New oil costs him
$8-12 per gallon. Instead, he says, he pays 30 to 70 cents per gallon to recycle
A typical oil purification unit
runs about $40,000. Naumann says his unit paid for itself in a matter of months.
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was one of the first major manufacturers to make Hachadoorian’s system a
regular part of its production line. By its own estimation, Ford used to go
through more than a million gallons of oil a day in one of its plants. With
on-site recycling, that dropped to 80,000 gallons.
“Savings on new oil purchases is
just the beginning,” says Hachadoorian, whose clients also include Toyota
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and the U.S. Air Force.
“Oil purification has a chain
effect on cost savings right down the production line. For instance, companies
pay certified haulers a lot of money to dispose of their waste oil—a
considerable expense in itself.”
Naumann’s plant is a case in
point. He says he pays $2 for every gallon of oil he throws out. His annual cost
of disposal used to be $24,000. With recycling, that figure dropped to $2,000.
Consider another way oil
purification impacts the bottom line: downtime. Companies lose thousands of
dollars in revenue per hour when equipment goes down for repairs. Contaminated
oil is the chief culprit, according to Hachadoorian; contaminants cause erosion,
and eventually failure, of critical systems and parts.
“Purification not only reduces
lost revenue from downtime,” he says, “but all the costs associated with
replacement parts. It’s preventative maintenance.”
How it Works
Purification units such as
PetroTech’s are like dialysis machines for industrial equipment. They’re wheeled
in and hooked up to systems that use oil, such as turbines and hydraulic pumps.
A process of ultra-fine filtration and vacuum distillation scrubs the oil of
contaminants, restoring it to its near-original condition.
Other companies manufacture oil
reclamation equipment, including The Pall Corporation
International , but the vacuum
distillation process is exclusive to PetroTech. Otherwise, the industry is
fragmented, with companies offering different equipment for different purposes.
Petroleum (mineral-based oil) is
only one untapped resource for purification. Hachadoorian envisions another in
synthetic fluids like Skydrol, used in the hydraulic systems of airplanes.
PetroTech’s partnership with AAR Corporation, a provider of products and
services for the aerospace industry, will focus on the commercial airline
“Grounded planes mean
cancellations—a big liability for airlines,” says Santare. He estimates the cost
of downtime for a wide-body jet to be as much as $14,000 per scheduled flight.
Purifying Skydrol (which is more expensive than petroleum) can significantly
reduce a plane’s ground hours, he says.
The case for industrial oil
reclamation grows stronger as oil prices climb and supplies grow scarce. And,
with corporations becoming more accountable for their “carbon footprint,”
there’s no better time to go green with contaminated waste oil.
“Today, it’s no longer the oil
that needs changing,” says Hachadoorian. “It’s the thinking.”