The right place for a used motor oil re-refinery: Peachtree City

Oil. Black gold. Gold can be melted and reshaped again and again. Oil, too, has the potential to be re-refined again and again. But that’s not what usually happens.

For 20 years, Universal Environmental Services (UES), headquartered in Peachtree City, has collected used motor oil from cars and trucks. UES’ customers include large corporations — Walmart is their largest customer — and mom and pop service stations across 14 states.
At their facility they filter and dewater the used oil, and then they sell it as fuel for industrial machines to paper mills, cement kilns and asphalt plants. Because there is no re-refinery in the Southeast, most of the oil from every car, every bus, every truck on the road gets reused, but not as well as a re-refinery can do.
UES was sold last year: 86 percent of the company was acquired by Avista, a German company that pioneered a process for re-refining used motor oil, at their three other international re-refineries located in Europe and the Middle East.
With patented Avista technology, German engineering and a $60 million investment in production equipment, UES is constructing a re-refinery in the heart of Peachtree City’s industrial park.
A re-refinery takes used motor oil and processes it to the point where it can be blended with standard additives to be motor oil again. This process creates a better quality base oil and less of a carbon footprint than the oil refining from crude. UES CEO Juan Fritschy calls it “upcycling.” It’s relatively rare.
There are only five re-refineries in the United States. All of them use hydro-treating, a method of re-refining, that requires high temperature, high pressure and highly flammable hydrogen.
According to Fritschy, the Avista process is much safer. And he should know. A native of Argentina with two master’s degrees and a Ph.D., he worked with Avista in Europe, where they have a re-refinery that hasn’t missed a day of operation in its seven years of operation. The Peachtree City plant will be Avista’s fourth in the world.
Safety is a top concern for Fritschy. The new re-refinery will be built to withstand hurricanes and a hundred year flood. There’s a back-up plan for every function.
Of their $60 million budget, “About $11 million is for redundancies. This is by far more resilient than any other refinery in the United States. We are trying to build for the long run, an asset that should last decades,” said Fritschy.
Unlike a manufacturing facility, which could take their widgets to another state by moving equipment, the UES investment in their facility is permanent. They are in Peachtree City to stay.
And that’s fine with Fritschy, “I travel a lot around the United States. It’s difficult to find a city like Peachtree City. There are all the components of a well-designed city here. You can see the city is being taken care of. It’s very green and family friendly. People choose to move here because of that reason.”
He cites the mild weather here as a benefit, especially in comparison to Wisconsin, where he lived for a time. “It’s excellent for raising children and families. I hear it’s in the national rankings for the best places to live. After six months I see why,” he said.
Juan Fritschy could have lived anywhere. After all, he’s lived all around the globe. But there are business reasons for being here.
Fayette County is a logistically ideal place to put UES’ new re-refinery: It’s 250 miles to the port at Savannah, and 250 miles to the port at Mobile, Ala.
Mobile has easy access to the Gulf of Mexico, and the oil industry’s blenders in Texas and Louisiana. Blenders are manufacturing facilities that turn the base oil UES will produce into motor oil by adding the proper additives, some of which are removed in the re-refining process.
Their Peachtree City location, on Dividend Drive, also has direct access to the CSX railway. Fritschy estimates that their rail shipments will increase by 65 percent with the re-refinery, scheduled for completion in May 2013.
Some jobs have already been generated in Fayette County. Construction at UES was contracted to Peachtree City’s Tiernan & Patrylo. Additionally, some 25 jobs will be added when the re-refinery comes online.
Matt Forshee, President and CEO of the Fayette County Development Authority, explained, “When the community thinks about why industrial investment is good, they’re often thinking jobs. But an investment of $60 million, like what UES is doing with their re-refinery, that brings in additional tax revenue of about $800,000 per year. That’s money that helps to pay for roads, parks, libraries and schools.”
“UES and their investment in our community are appreciated not just because they are a green business, but because they are helping this county to be an exceptional place to live,” said Forshee.
Fritschy added, “When you build a re-refinery, there is no way you can move it. In order for this investment to be profitable, we have to stay for decades. We know we cannot relocate, but we feel we are in the right place.”
— By Ellie White-Stevens, Special to The Citizen