Recycled raw materials - Used motor oil turned into raw material

The use of recycled raw material as the basis for motor oil is increasing in Europe. “Customers have also started to request recycled products here. In North America, the market already prefers recycled motor oils,” explains Managing Director Petri Rautanen from L & T Recoil Oy.

L & T Recoil Oy, which is part of the EcoStream group, started regenerating used motor oils into new base oil four years ago in Hamina, southeast Finland. The production plant situated at the port of Hamina re-refines all recycled transport, marine and industrial lubricating oils collected in Finland and a considerable amount of imported raw material from the Baltics.

When the decision to build a new plant was made in 2007, the licence was purchased from North America. However, the process had to be adjusted to European conditions through a series of trial and error. It turned out that the raw material in Europe is considerably different from that in America. Rautanen explains how they had to rethink the process chemistry all over again.

Different stages of the process have around thirty Vahterus heat exchangers. The company decided to choose Vahterus because it offered a good delivery deadline, flexible and economical solutions and small-sized equipment.

Rautanen is pleased with its flexible partner who has really taken to analysing the challenges of the start-up phase together with Recoil. Cooperation has included development work to find a solution to the problem of when heat exchangers become soiled.

In the L & T Recoil process, recycled oil is processed chemically using temperature, pressure, dwell time and catalysis. Finally, the base oil is hydrogenated which will turn it into a high quality raw material for lubricant manufacturers.

Plant conditions demand a lot from the equipment. “Typically, lubricating oil regeneration creates a corrosive environment where equipment becomes soiled quickly,” describes Rautanen. Further, the temperature can reach nearly 400 °C and pressure can be as high as 80–90 bars.

“Vahterus has worked in close cooperation with us as we have developed our process and heat exchanger solutions. We have both worked towards developing different work stages and improving exchanger cleaning methods in order to make all of our lives easier,” Rautanen says.

A variety of Vahterus heat exchangers are used in the Recoil process. Some exchangers have also been replaced after gaining more experience of the process.

“For example, when we found out where corrosion is strongest, we changed the process conditions and adjusted exchanger materials. In some cases, we have even used Hastelloy level materials. Vahterus has also developed its process and been able to manufacture stacks using more robust materials.”

The partnership between the two companies has grown closer over time.

“It is important for us to know what the limit of each heat exchanger is so that we can choose the right exchanger for the right stage in the process. Our partnership with Vahterus has been very fruitful.”

The companies have worked on different methods and materials in order to manage the soiling of equipment and has analysed temperature profiles, flow directions and flow speed.

“We started from the very basics. They are experts in heat exchangers and that enables us to target the right things. We are not just fixing the symptom but the actual problem. Combining our experience provides us with comprehensive solutions,” says Rautanen.