Disruptive Shifts Driving Growth in the US Circular Economy for Lubricants
Demand for sustainable and high-quality base oils drives future growth potential
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The United States accounts for more than 20% of all lubricants consumed globally. It has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of 7.6 gallons per year. Key factors such as high automobile use or ownership and a huge variety of industries contribute to the demand for lubricants. In 2020, total demand for lubricants in the United States reached 2.09 billion gallons, of which about 1.17 billion gallons of used oil were generated while the rest was lost in use. Currently, the used oil collected is an estimated 72% of the used oil generated by automotive and industrial users of lubricants.
A push for decarbonization and smaller carbon footprints is driving the move toward a circular economy for the lubricants industry. Achieving these sustainability goals requires less dependence on both imported fuel and on highly polluting fossil fuel extraction. In the last decade, collection of used oil has grown significantly in the United States, primarily driven by stringent enforcement of policies by individual states and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that regulates the management of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Current estimates from the US Department of Energy (DOE) indicate that 30% of the used oil collected is re-refined as base oil, which is then made into a variety of lubricants.
Lubricants manufactured from re-refined base oil were previously considered inferior to lubricants made from virgin crude oil. However, an increase in awareness, advancements in used oil re-refining technology, and the economical and environmental sustainability benefits of re-refined base oil based lubricants in the last 10 years have caused a steady rise in their acceptance and adoption.
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