North Vancouver facility recycles used oil into quality products
GFL’s North Vancouver facility is a 24-hour operation that re-refines over 40 million liters of used oil per year. Located across the Burrard Inlet from downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, the refinery is tucked away in an industrial area where it receives used oil by truck and rail.
The facility recycles used oil collected from automobile dealerships, lube centers and repair shops, as well as from heavy industry, mining and oilfields. From this used oil, premium quality base oils are created which are then sold to customers in the US and Canada or blended into GFL’s own oil products under its Advanta brand.
Used oil is rigorously tested to ensure its suitability for re-refining before it is processed through stages of dehydration, defueling, vacuum distillation and hydrotreating. Despite the quality of the oils produced, many consumers remain reluctant to choose re-refined oil over virgin crude oil, unaware that re-refined oil is not only a better environmental choice, but there’s also essentially no difference between the two.
“People have roadblocks in their minds about re-refined oil, but the products that are produced at the refinery meet or exceed API [American Petroleum Institute] specifications,” said Chris Parent, general manager of Oil Services at the North Vancouver facility. “Regulations have improved the quality of motor oils over time; therefore, our feed stream has improved in quality, leading to the improved quality of the base oil that we produce, in two ways. First, the used oil is better, but we’ve also implemented efficiencies in the refinery itself that make the process much more efficient than it was 10 years ago.”
Re-refining oil is an environmentally-responsible way to deal with used oil because it can be re-refined over and over. This process reduces the risk of used oil contaminating the environment through spills and prevents the burning of waste oil, helping to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
By re-refining used oil, the North Vancouver facility prevents the release of GHG emissions equivalent to taking more than 26,000 passenger vehicles off the road each year, according to an independent Life Cycle Analysis study conducted in 2012.
GFL collects 90 million liters of used oil a year from roughly 6,900 customers in western Canada, including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba for re-refining in GFL’s North Vancouver facility. Oil that is not re-refined is sold as fuel into the burner fuel market.
The North Vancouver facility collects used oil in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland area, from Pemberton in the north to Hope in the east. Over 93 percent of the used oil that it collects is recovered, producing 28 million liters of base oil each year.
When the facility receives used oil, it’s first tested to ensure it’s of refinable quality, before going through a four-stage treatment process. The first three stages remove water, fuel, contaminants and additives from the used oil. The last stage, hydrotreating, is an identical process to conventional refining. Hydrotreating reduces the aromatic content, acidity, carbon residue, sulfur, nitrogen and sludge-forming tendencies, improving oxidation stability and color to ensure high quality base oils.
Overall, the facility produces three cuts of base oils, which are either sold to other manufacturers to produce their own lubricants or blended with technologically-advanced additives to produce Advanta products, GFL’s own brand of recycled oils. The Advanta products are quality API licensed engine oils for passenger cars and diesel engines.
Advanta also offers industrial gear oils, hydraulic oils, tractor fluids, saw and chain oils used to lubricate chain saws and dormant spray oil to control pests on fruit trees. The brand even produces a cattle oiler — when cows walk under a rope that is saturated with cattle oiler, the rubbing action removes flies, and the oil leaves a protective barrier to help repel flies.
These products are packaged in pails, drums, totes and flexi-tanks on site in North Vancouver.
Many of the recycled oils re-enter the local British Columbia market, either as Advanta products or in private label programs. Thus, the re-refined oil returns to lube centers, automotive repair shops, mines and heavy industry, where the cycle of use and collection can continue.
The North Vancouver facility has a fascinating history spanning four decades – it broke ground in 1978, has been In operation since 1983 and was acquired by GFL from Terrapure in 2021.
Now, high demand for the premium recycled base oils and oil products that the facility produces is driving a major expansion project. Work began in 2019 that increased the facility’s refining capacity by 20 percent. At present, phase 2 of the expansion is underway, which will increase refining capacity by an additional 20 percent, and a third phase is also planned.
“Engineering is really driving the expansion work that we’re undertaking and the process improvement capital that we deploy every year, to continually improve the process,” Parent said. “We’re currently at 40 million liters input, and phase 2 will take us to 52 million liters input.”
Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the facility employs 40 people, many of whom, like Parent, are long-term employees. Parent has worked at the refinery for 37 years and has witnessed much of its history unfold.
“We’ve got a lot of dedicated long-term employees who have worked to create our customer base, telling our story and building brand confidence in the marketplace,” Parent said. “And then, of course, we have the people who work to operate the facility, whether it’s the packaging folks or the production people. Everybody plays an important role. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we’re at today.”
Parent is proud that the facility is making a positive contribution not only environmentally, but also in their immediate neighborhood. The refinery offers tours to interested community groups who are often surprised by the refinery’s existence.
“The biggest compliment we get is ‘I live down the road and I didn’t know you guys were here,’” Parent said. “To me, it’s a feather in our cap because that means we are good neighbors. If we can be a full-fledged oil refinery in their backyard and they don’t even know we’re here, we’re doing a pretty environmentally admirable job.”