Existing methods of recycling convert waste engine oil into fuel oil for industrial use, rather than producing usable engine oil. They also leave highly toxic residues, called acid tars, in the oil.
The key to the new method is a process of thermal and chemical pre-treatment of the oil before traditional recycling techniques, according to Richard Sturdy, managing director of Orcol, the largest oil recycler in the UK. The oil that is recovered falls into three fractions, engine oil, a light fuel oil and a heavy fuel oil. He said there were no acid tar residues and that the recycled fuel oils, when burned, produce less than half the sulphur dioxide emissions of newly refined fuel. (Sulphur dioxide emissions are the main cause of acid rain.)
The re-refined engine oil can be recycled an infinite number of times. 'Other companies have attempted to recycle engine oil using a similar process. The breakthrough we have made is to come up with the first economically viable method,' said Mr Sturdy.
Orcol is promoting its recycled Envirol as the first 'green' engine oil - suitable for petrol and diesel vehicles, including fuel-injection and turbo- charged models, at a cost about equivalent to unrecycled oils. In a bid to encourage recycling, the company is trying to negotiate an agreement with one of the leading do-it-yourself chains to sell Envirol at a discount to motorists who bring in their used engine oil.
Orcol already collects 170 million litres per year of waste oil from 40,000 garages round the country, and it plans to brand them with 'Earth Defender' stickers so that motorists can identify garages that handle waste oil in this way.
Mr Sturdy said a billion litres of waste oil is produced in the UK each year, presenting a huge diposal problem. Although much of it is recycled or stored, it is estimated that garages and DIY motorists pour as much as 90 million litres down the drain, polluting soil and water supplies. One litre of waste oil can pollute one million litres of water, and oil reaching water purifying plants can damage the equipment.
Under the 1992 Duty of Care Regulations, anyone who disposes of oil irresponsibly is liable to a maximum fine of pounds 20,000, six months imprisonment, or both.
'Oil companies and motor manufacturers have not done enough to raise public consciousness that waste oil is a dreadful potential pollutant,' Mr Sturdy said. 'I believe our new recycling process, in conjunction with the Earth Defender collection scheme, will start to solve the problem.'
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