Helpful: 100%

Engine oil has evolved over the years, as has every other aspect of the automotive industry. The car industry has shifted from conventional mineral oil to synthetic oil.

It’s often said that synthetic oil is more environmentally friendly than conventional oil. But do we believe it is as good for the environment as claimed?

Its manufacturing process is different, but it is still an oil with similar properties.

There are three considerations when answering this question—the environmental impact when being made, when in use, and when it comes to disposal.

First, let’s talk about how its manufacturing process differs from conventional oil.

Then, we will discuss its use in engines, how it is better compared to mineral oil, and lastly, how this oil is disposed of after its lifecycle ends.

It is less harmful to the environment because it lasts approximately three times longer than conventional oil and can be disposed of less frequently.

Nonetheless, the pollution it generates during disposal is comparable to conventional oil.

Is Synthetic Oil Better for the Environment When It’s Being Made?

The difference between synthetic oil and mineral oil is in manufacturing and performance. The term “synthetic” does not imply that this oil is made from synthetic materials; its base materials are still petroleum that has been refined through various chemical processes.

Crude Oil Processing

On the other hand, mineral oil is made by distilling crude oil.

Due to the complexities of manufacturing synthetic oil, the overall energy and transport costs are higher than simply distilling crude oil.

The purest lubricant molecule, ethylene, is chosen for altering mineral oil. Chemists then use chemical synthesis to create larger ethylene molecules known as alpha-olefins. These alpha-olefins are then combined to form poly alpha olefins (PAO).

This finished product is referred to as synthetic oil. It is the cleanest synthetic organic oil on the market, with no downsides. 

Since synthetic oil production involves multiple complex processes, its cost is about two to four times the cost of mineral oil. This cost is passed onto the customer- that’s you and me.

As per Kelley Blue Book, an automotive research US company, the synthetic oil change of your vehicle will cost you anywhere from $65 to $125. In comparison, a conventional oil change will cost between $35 and $75.

The whole process just explained involves using petroleum products as the starting materials. Multiple by-products other than oil are produced during a series of processes used for synthesis.

Is Synthetic Oil Better for the Environment When Being Used In The Engine?

Normal mineral oil, such as 5W-30, is a lubricant that is thick at low temperatures and becomes thin at high temperatures. To counter this problem, additives are added to this natural oil, which lessens its viscosity at low temperatures and makes it thicker at higher temperatures. Initially, the oil behaves very well. But over time, the additives break down due to various chemical processes, and the oil reverts to its old crude properties.

On the other hand, synthetic oil is manufactured to perform better in all temperature conditions. Due to the lack of impurities and contaminants, it retains its properties for quite a long time. Synthetics have reduced volatility and do not boil off or vaporize as quickly as petroleum oils.

In the slightly elevated temperatures of internal combustion engines, synthetics lose 4% to 10% of their mass, whereas petroleum-based lubricants lose up to 20%. This difference affects the lubricating and heat resistance properties of the chosen oil that is in the engine.

As per Ed Newman, the marketing executive at AMSOIL, “Synthetic oils are better for the environment because they last three times as long as conventional oils before needing to be drained and refilled. In addition, this oil is better for the car; the engine lasts longer, resulting in fewer cars being scrapped. Apart from that, since the engine runs smoothly and sludge-free, the emissions produced by the engine are significantly reduced. That’s how this synthetic oil is environmentally superior to mineral oil.”

Is Synthetic Oil Better for the Environment When it Needs to be Disposed of?

On average, a conventional oil change must be done after 3,000 miles. Synthetic oil has a longer life than mineral oil and needs replacing between 5,000 to 7,000. Some companies state higher change intervals over 10,000 miles. So, its only environmental advantage is that its replacement frequency is lower than petroleum-based mineral oil.

But still, being oil, it has to be disposed of after its usage. Apart from disposal, there are some ways to be recycled. After processing through a series of steps, it can be used as mineral oil.

Similarly, this oil can be re-refined and used as fuel or as a raw material in multiple petrochemical industries. With the latest technological advancements in chemistry, re-refining used oil is no longer a problem.

Oil manufacturing should look into these technologies and promote the usage of re-refined automobiles. In this way, a true closed recycling loop can be formed.

What are Some Disadvantages of Using Synthetic Oil?

Apart from many advantages, there are some drawbacks to using synthetic oil. The first problem is its cost; it is approximately three to four times more expensive than normal oil.

In cold storage conditions, some of the additives slightly precipitate out.

It offers slightly less fuel economy on highways.

Apart from that, in some – especially older cars -it is not recommended to be used in new or reconditioned engines within break-in periods.

Are Synthetic Blend Oils Good For The Environment?

As the name suggests, synthetic blends are a halfway house between crude and fully synthetic oil. They will not use as many resources as fully synthetic oils when produced but will need to be changed out of the engine more often. These two considerations can cancel themselves out.

However, it is difficult to answer this question with any certainty as not all blends are equal. Some are more mineral oil than synthetic, and vice versa.

Are Synthetic Oil Filters Good For the Environment?

Synthetic oil filters may have polyester and glass added to them to improve their ability to get contaminants out of the oil. As it only contains small amounts of manufactured substances, the filter itself will not significantly impact the environment compared to standard oil filters.

However, they can catch more impurities in your car’s oil and increase the engine’s lifespan. This alone means they are better for the planet than standard oil filters.]

In Conclusion

Synthetic oil is better for the environment because it lasts up to three times longer than mineral oil. It needs to be disposed of less often and also saves on the cost of more mineral oil extraction.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *