Used by the U.S. Department of Defense in vehicles in Afghanistan, Enterprise’s rental cars and other major fleets, re-refined oil has yet to hit the consumer or smaller fleet market with much sway. But Safety-Kleen, the producer of EcoPower re-refined motor oil (used by the aforementioned fleets) is working to educate companies on the efficacy of re-refined oil.
Re-refined oil uses reclaimed oil that has undergone contaminant testing. At its refinery in East Chicago, Ind., Safety-Kleen first re-refines the reclaimed oil through processes such as vacuum distillation to remove debris from the oil and a process called hydro-treating, and then refreshes the oil’s additives.
Decades ago re-refined oil didn’t see much “refining.” Barry McCabe, Safety-Kleen’s oil re-refining division director of marketing, says re-refined oil in its earliest days was associated with “putting used oil through a sock.” But today — and after Safety-Kleen’s EcoPower has undergone a 1-million-mile test in two engines — this re-refined oil goes through a much more intricate process.
With a U.S. dependence on foreign oil, Safety-Kleen maintains that re-refined oil is more sustainable. This is because it takes 42 gallons of new crude oil to produce one gallon of high-quality motor oil, according to Safety-Kleen. In fact, the company says that the re-refining process consumes up to 85% less energy than the conventional methods used to make motor oil from crude.
Safety-Kleen purchases or has partnerships to obtain the used oil, but no new crude oil is ever used. This means that a fleet using 1 million gallons of engine oil per year could expect to save 7,682 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which would be equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 1,500 passenger vehicles.
McCabe says the re-refined oil industry has room to grow, citing about 1 billion gallons of used oil per year in North America that could be re-refined. “It’s not unrealistic for demand to double in five years or less,” he says.
And most importantly, the customer’s cost for re-refined oil is comparable to motor oil made from crude. While it’s dependent on the distributor, McCabe says it’s usually “a wash.”
In the 1-million-mile test, fully loaded long-haulers were subjected to using only EcoPower at 40,000-50,000 mile oil change intervals, compared to the manufacturer recommended 25,000 miles.
(It should be noted that EcoPower is now American Petroleum Institute (API)-approved. As well, it has been approved by or meets oil specifications of major diesel and gas engine OEMs. The company says a fleet should follow OEM recommendations for oil type, grade and intervals.)
Upon completion of the test, the engines were disassembled and inspected. The results?
The re-refined oil showed engine wear protection of critical components by maintaining its viscosity and acid neutralization. (Acid can build up in motor oil and causes corrosion.) Safety-Kleen also reports “acceptable” levels of wear metals — like iron, copper and lead — were found in each oil analysis compared to two major brands made from crude oil, which were compared up to 500,000 miles.
Pat Fetterman, industrial liaison for Infineum, a global additive company that conducted the third-party testing on EcoPower, said he found no signs of distress on the engines.
The oil was used in 2007 Cummins ISX EGR engines with 450 horsepower.
“Based on what I’ve seen, looking at the condition of the cams, the ring and liner interface disassembled, these engines are in the same condition as I would expect for an oil operating at a million miles with a virgin base stock,” he said.
Infineum said that overall the EcoPower oil used in the test — HD 15W-40 CJ-4/SM — performed equal to if not better than the competing diesel engine oils.