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Transforming the oil recycling industry: Hong Kong shipping magnate’s innovation to reduce air pollution

A Hong Kong shipping magnate is making a foray into the mainland market for greener recycled engine oils following nearly a decade of refining research in the city.

Fenwick Shipping boss Antony Marden said demand was growing on the mainland for high-quality base oils that were not just “strained through a sock”, de-watered, burned and sold off as heavily polluting and illegal low-grade diesel.

“About 70 to 80 per cent of lube oil is collected in China because it is too valuable to be thrown down the drain,” said Marden, whose company CleanOil Investment opens its first re-refining plant in Zhuhai’s Gaolan petrochemicals zone today.

“But what happens to it is that most of it is re-refined in the most basic way, which has a low-rate of recovery and creates high secondary pollution as it is most always just burned, polluting the air.”

The company’s patented closed-loop technology will be able to reap a 90 per cent recovery rate from the feedstock, which is about a third higher than the industry standard. It will do so virtually free of any waste emissions.

A four-stage process extracts a large amounts of impurities from the feedstock by filtering and vacuum flashing before the residual substances or spent additives left behind are extracted. The final product is a stable “group II” base, free of hazardous chemicals and gases, which can be re-refined indefinitely.

About 90 per cent of the company’s products will be sold to blenders and refiners on the mainland, while the rest will be marketed and sold under the brand CleanOil. It will not be sold in Hong Kong.

The company is not a first mover – major mainland oil firms are producing similar products – but Marden claims that this area is still a “blind spot” among his competitors, especially in southern provinces.

Marden, who partnered with Jebsen Industrial two and a half years ago to build the US$40 million state-of-the-art Zhuhai plant, said he aimed to roll out another four or five bigger plants in about six months to a year.

The company had been running a plant in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long area for about 10 years before it had “served its purpose” as an R&D centre and demolished two years ago.

Marden admitted that it had taken longer than expected to set up the venture but it had been a market he had been eyeing for a while as the mainland automobile market continued to grow.

“I’m a shipowner and it’s a cyclical business,” Marden said. “I thought I would try something different…I believe anything good for the environment and you can make money with, has got to be a win-win situation.”

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Daily Mail: How 16 ships create as much pollution as all the cars in the world

from Fred Pearce of the Daily Mail:

Award-winning science writer Fred Pearce – environmental consultant to New Scientist and author of Confessions Of An Eco Sinner – reveals that the super-ships that keep the West in everything from Christmas gifts to computers pump out killer chemicals linked to thousands of deaths because of the filthy fuel they use.

We’ve all noticed it. The filthy black smoke kicked out by funnels on cross-Channel ferries, cruise liners, container ships, oil tankers and even tugboats.

It looks foul, and leaves a brown haze across ports and shipping lanes. But what hasn’t been clear until now is that it is also a major killer, probably causing thousands of deaths in Britain alone.

As ships get bigger, the pollution is getting worse. The most staggering statistic of all is that just 16 of the world’s largest ships can produce as much lung-clogging sulphur pollution as all the world’s cars.

Because of their colossal engines, each as heavy as a small ship, these super-vessels use as much fuel as small power stations.

But, unlike power stations or cars, they can burn the cheapest, filthiest, high-sulphur fuel: the thick residues left behind in refineries after the lighter liquids have been taken. The stuff nobody on land is allowed to use.

Thanks to decisions taken in London by the body that polices world shipping, this pollution could kill as many as a million more people in the coming decade – even though a simple change in the rules could stop it.

There are now an estimated 100,000 ships on the seas, and the fleet is growing fast as goods are ferried in vast quantities from Asian industrial powerhouses to consumers in Europe and North America.

The recession has barely dented the trade. This Christmas, most of our presents will have come by super-ship from the Far East; ships such as the Emma Maersk and her seven sisters Evelyn, Eugen, Estelle, Ebba, Eleonora, Elly and Edith Maersk.

Each is a quarter of a mile long and can carry up to 14,000 full-size containers on their regular routes from China to Europe.

Emma – dubbed SS Santa by the media – brought Christmas presents to Europe in October and is now en route from Algeciras in Spain to Yantian in southern China, carrying containers full of our waste paper, plastic and electronics for recycling.

But it burns marine heavy fuel, or ‘bunker fuel’, which leaves behind a trail of potentially lethal chemicals: sulphur and smoke that have been linked to breathing problems, inflammation, cancer and heart disease.

James Corbett, of the University of Delaware, is an authority on ship emissions. He calculates a worldwide death toll of about 64,000 a year, of which 27,000 are in Europe. Britain is one of the worst-hit countries, with about 2,000 deaths from funnel fumes. Corbett predicts the global figure will rise to 87,000 deaths a year by 2012.

Part of the blame for this international scandal lies close to home.

In London, on the south bank of the Thames looking across at the Houses of Parliament, is the International Maritime Organisation, the UN body that polices the world’s shipping.

For decades, the IMO has rebuffed calls to clean up ship pollution. As a result, while it has long since been illegal to belch black, sulphur-laden smoke from power-station chimneys or lorry exhausts, shipping has kept its licence to pollute.

For 31 years, the IMO has operated a policy agreed by the 169 governments that make up the organisation which allows most ships to burn bunker fuel.

Christian Eyde Moller, boss of the DK shipping company in Rotterdam, recently described this as ‘just waste oil, basically what is left over after all the cleaner fuels have been extracted from crude oil. It’s tar, the same as asphalt. It’s the cheapest and dirtiest fuel in the world’.

Bunker fuel is also thick with sulphur. IMO rules allow ships to burn fuel containing up to 4.5 per cent sulphur. That is 4,500 times more than is allowed in car fuel in
the European Union. The sulphur comes out of ship funnels as tiny particles, and it is these that get deep into lungs.

Thanks to the IMO’s rules, the largest ships can each emit as much as 5,000 tons of sulphur in a year – the same as 50million typical cars, each emitting an average of 100 grams of sulphur a year.

With an estimated 800million cars driving around the planet, that means 16 super-ships can emit as much sulphur as the world fleet of cars.



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