Portland, Oregon Transit Bus Fleet Uses Re-refined Oil
By Trish Thiel

When thinking about busses, one does not usually think "environmentally friendly." But in Portland, Oregon, the transit agency, TriMet, is working hard to find ways to limit the busses' negative impacts on the environment.

One of the things TriMet is doing is using re-refined oil in its entire fleet of 670 busses. A year long test of approximately 200 busses using re-refined oil, found that it worked just as well as virgin oil.

Carolyn Young, TriMet executive director of programs and communications, said, "It was renewal time for purchasing contracts. We have a policy of trying to use products that have recycled content. 'Recycled' oil did not have the quality our mechanics felt was necessary for the busses. We received a call from a recycling expert in the region asking if we were familiar with re-refined oil.

"Our mechanics were skeptical," continued Ms. Young. "After looking at the specifications for the re-refined oil, the mechanics decided that it was something that could be tested in the heavy duty applications of the busses."

TriMet decided to test 76 Firebird HD 15W-40 re-refined oil made by 76 Lubricants Company to test in the busses. As months passed, there were no problems with busses using the refined oil and all the oil analyses were normal. The 76 Firebird AW Oil has a 100 percent high quality re-refined base stock, blended with antiwear hydraulic fluid.

Ms. Young said, "We found it was just as good a product as virgin oil. After the tests, we switched the entire fleet of busses. TriMet purchases about 55,000 gallons of lubricating oil yearly."

According to information from 76 Lubricants Company, re-refined oils are the end product of a long process involving used oils. Used oils contain many contaminants such as water, fuel, dirt, soot, used additives, and oil oxidation products that prevent the oils from doing their job. These used oils are collected and taken to a refiner.

Before these oils can be re-used, all contaminants are removed. The oil is then distilled and purified in a final step through a process called hydrotreating. The re-refined base oils produced by this process are of equal quality to virgin oil. Base oils only get dirty, they don't wear out, according to 76 literature.

76 Lubricants literature also explained that oils labeled "recycled" usually only go through a filtering or centrifuged process. This removes many of the contaminants and usually serves as the first step in re-refining oil.

The company pointed out that products can be labeled re-refined as long as it contains a minimum of 25 percent re-refined oils. 76 Lubricants said that it uses the maximum possible amounts of re-refined base oils in its Firebird products, with many containing 100 percent re-refined base stock.

Ms. Young said that TriMet recycles its used fluids through a local recycler. The re-refined oil is purchased from a Washington refinery because Oregon does not have any refineries. The cost of the re-refined oil is comparable to virgin oil.

The only other large fleet of busses in the Northwest using re-refined oil that TriMet is aware of is Seattle Washington's mass transit agency.

Ms. Young explained that Oregon has a long history of supporting recycling and that TriMet has a"G.R.E.E.N." policy and participates in an Environmental Management System (EMS). Ms. Young has worked at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the general manager of TriMet comes from an environmental background. He was head of the Oregon DEQ for 10 years and was deputy director for the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We look for ways to protect the environment. We try to recycle rather than dispose of used items," she said. "We look at the whole process and talk with our employees on their thoughts for meeting our goals."

The G.R.E.E.N. policy includes:

Goal - to be an environmental leader by improving environmental performance beyond full compliance, preventing pollution and minimizing the impact on the environment.

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse - to reduce the negative effects on the environment by reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling waste. Showing a preference for products made of recycled materials.

Educate - educate employees to be environmentally responsible by communicating how their jobs may affect the environment and how actions contribute to achieving environmental goals. Educate the public on the benefits of transit and how riding transit reduces pollution and helps meet the regions land use goals. Educate business partners on the benefits of transit and employee commute options.

Efficient Use Resources - implement conservation measures that consume less energy including, fuel, electricity, water and time.

Nature - conserve natural resources by working toward a long-term goal of sustainability.

TriMet's EMS is a system that helps analyze, control, and reduce environmental impact and operate with greater efficiency.