“Motor” oil is the lifeblood of any car – unless you drive one of those battery-powered slugs. The lubricating fluid has typically been made from crude oil found underground, or a man-made mixture that creates a synthetic oil. Now, your dead or dying Christmas tree might be the way of the future to create your next oil change.
A company called Nexcel has developed a motor oil made entirely from waste, which includes chewing gum and Christmas trees. A myriad of waste items have been recycled in the lab to yield properties required for crucial chemical additives.
Castrol innovation business, Nexcel, has produced automotive-grade engine oil using nothing but waste products. Chewing gum, used fryer oil, batteries, bathroom sealant, and even a Christmas tree have been recycled and have yielded vital properties for the ambitious program, which demonstrates the significant potential of re-refined oil.
“The project showcases the sustainability potential of waste” says John Ward-Zinski, Nexcel’s sustainability director. “This was a hugely demanding project, completed over the last year. It’s one which we hope will open the public’s eyes as to the importance of recycling and sustainability. Few people would think that discarded Christmas trees and old chewing gum could have a commercial or environmental value, but our engine oil shows this is the case.”
According to the press release we received, Nexcel’s ambitious project has been inspired by the company’s innovative sealed-oil cell, which provides vehicle manufacturers with efficiency benefits and promotes used oil collection and re-refinement. “Our system has already been utilized by our technical partner, Aston Martin, for use in the visceral Vantage AMR Pro at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. At that event, the car became the first to tackle the legendary hill climb using re-refined oils,” continues Ward-Zinski. “In 2016, Nexcel and Aston Martin also achieved a podium finish in the competitive VLN Championship at the most arduous racetrack in the world: the Nürburgring. Sustainability, and therefore re-refinement, are of growing global significance; hopefully this project helps demonstrate the extent of what is possible.”
The most significant challenges of the project included the yielding of phenols and catechols from the waste to be used as antioxidants, forming the basis of the chemical additives required. Nexcel’s experts worked with a zero-waste goal, and after significant research, analysis of component properties and trial and error, the blend consisted of 180 chewing gum pieces, 500ml of used fryer oil, one gallon of RTV silicone sealant, 14 household batteries, 1-liter of used engine oil, and an old Christmas tree. Extraction of components from these waste items enabled Nexcel scientists to produce 1-liter of automotive engine oil.
“Re-refinement of used oil can create a high-quality product when blended with new additives, but bulk feedstocks made up of many different types of used oils can complicate the process and reduce the yield. Nexcel’s oil-management system avoids this by segregating used engine oil, keeping it in the cell during collection,” says Ward-Zinski. “For this particular project, we wanted to make the oil from waste materials, and the challenge lay in the creation of the chemical additives. However, with creative utilization of modern technology there is huge potential in recycling. It could even help prevent the traditional Christmas tree tip-run needle-drop, from which no car interior has ever recovered.”
There you have it. Although it sounds like science fiction, eventually, we might all be refining our used Christmas trees to enable our next oil change. That’s what I call being environmentally friendly.