Reusing or reselling waste oil helps plants fight rising oil prices

Oct. 14, 2008
Recycling waste oil can have environmental and financial benefits.

The unprecedented rise in world oil prices keeps both industry and consumers over a financial barrel, Abanaki Corp. is renewing its call for plants to recycle waste oil for heat or for resale to an authorized recycler. The owner and president of Abanaki, a producer of oil-skimming products, says recycling and reselling waste oil can take some of the sting out of today’s oil crisis.

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“If there were not enough environmental reasons to resell or reuse oil already, there’s absolutely no reason you should not be reclaiming your oil,” says Abanaki’s Tom Hobson. “With oil at well over $100 a barrel and likely fluctuating for some time, the oil you can recycle from your own plant can be reused in an industrial heater or an authorized recycler will buy it from you.”

For some time, Hobson has been encouraging plants to recognize the financial advantages in turning waste oil into profit. With an oil skimmer, a company can collect up to 40 gallons per hour of oil or grease from wastewater. “Oil skimming cost-effectively reclaims oil from wastewater and, as heating bills climb, they can save energy costs by burning it,” Hobson says. “In fact, burning spent oil in the proper furnace can often deliver a higher Btu [British thermal unit] value than new oil.”  

Because used oil usually has a thicker viscosity, it possesses more energy than #2 fuel oil and more than twice the energy value of LP gas or coal. Waste oils that can be burned for heat include almost any oil up to 50 S.A.E.: metal-cutting oils, lube oil, crankcase oil, transmission and hydraulic fluid, #1 and #2 diesel fuel, vegetable oils and grease.

Much to the surprise of many in industry, the process of a plant burning its own used oil gets good marks from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Hobson says. “The EPA supports the burning of used oil on site,” he explains, “because it prevents oil from entering the watershed and eliminates the risk of spills during transportation. A used-oil furnace is just as clean-burning as a standard furnace. Without question, there’s more money in your pocket if you can burn waste oil.”

Others are opting to sell their waste oil to authorized recyclers like David Charlton, CEO of Akron-based Rice Environmental Services (RES), who is a 15-year veteran in the collection and recycling of used oils, antifreeze and oil filters from commercial and industrial businesses. Like Abanaki, RES promotes a commitment to keeping the environment clean and to treating oil as a limited natural resource.

“It comes down to this — one, you can sell the clean, dry used oil or, two, you can recycle it,” says Charlton, whose company is part of the National Oil Recyclers Association (NORA). Established in 1985, NORA promotes “the primary mission of fighting the hazardous waste designation of used oil and [has] aided in the development of the EPA’s used oil management standards.”

“We’re completely on board to remove oil from water,” says Charlton, who pointed out that The Rice Companies not only recycle but also sell industrial and automotive lubricants. “It not just about reusing and recycling. It’s about rethinking how things are done. It’s the higher goal of sustainability.”

Whether waste oil is used for heating the plant or used for putting some dollars back into the plant’s operation through reselling or on-site recycling, it is a good resource, Abanki’s Hobson says. “If a plant has oil it’s not doing anything with, the oil may get discharged unintentionally in the plant. That’s a regulatory fine right there. Considering the alternative of reusing or reselling, the fine is a double-whammy. So why not profit from it?”

The “oil crisis” remains a front-page story and a top blogging topic, and Hobson believes more and more plant managers will look to recycling or reselling waste oil to help the bottom line. Only two years ago, an Abanaki-sponsored survey showed 78% of respondents were searching for ways to cut plant costs. About 35% said they would consider burning waste oils. Only 8% said that their plants already burned waste oil for heat.

Hobson says times are even tougher now: “Plant managers should not let the money hidden in their wastewater go to waste.”

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