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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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