Old chewing gum and discarded Christmas trees recycled into auto-grade engine oil

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Discarded household batteries, old Christmas trees and other items are recycled to produce automotive-grade lubricants | Nexcel photos by James Bissett

Castrol got its name from using the oil from castor beans to enhance the effectiveness of petroleum oil in lubricating automotive and aircraft engines, especially in high-performance applications.

In 2015, Castrol launched Nexcel, an oil-change system to simplify oil changes while also recycling oil and reducing tailpipe emissions. That Nexcel subsidiary has recently announced an automotive engine oil made entirely from waste products, including Christmas trees and chewing gum. 

Discarded Christmas trees contribute their needles to the new re-refined oil

“The project showcases the sustainability potential of waste,” John Ward-Zinski, Nexcel sustainability director, is quoted in the company’s announcement. “This was a hugely demanding project completed over the last year and 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 anything but the case.

“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 process yield,” he explained. “Nexcel’s oil management system avoids this by segregating used engine oil, keeping it in the cell during collection.

“For this particular project we wanted to make the entire 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 needle drop, from which no car interior has ever recovered.”

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Old batteries and bathroom sealant also contribute to the materials that are recycled to produce the oil. Nexcel said its most recent formulation uses 180 pieces of chewing gum, 500 milliliters of used frying oil, a gram of silicon sealant, 14 household batteries, a liter of used engine oil and an old Christmas tree and extracts the components needed to produce a liter of automotive-grade engine oil.

Nexcel notes in its announcement that the Aston Martin Vantage AMR Pro that participated in the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2018 was the first car to do the hill climb using re-refined oils, and that as early as 2016 Aston Martin posted a podium finish in the VLN Championships series at the Nurburgring with re-refined oil.

“Sustainability, and therefore re-refinement, are of growing global significance; hopefully this project helps demonstrate the extent of what is possible,” Ward-Zinski added.

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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