Lubricating oil is one of the myriad petroleum-based products that will become more expensive and harder to come by should the dire predictions of the Peak Oil folks come to pass. But chemical engineers at the University of Kentucky and ChevronTexaco have figured out a way to use waste plastics as the base material for engine lubricant. Only 1 million of the 25 million tons of plastic used in the United States every year is recycled; the rest is tossed into the garbage. The process developed by the researchers works with both polyethelene and poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) plastics; the resulting lubricant is the functional equivalent of high-quality lubricant made from natural gas. The article will be published in an upcoming Energy & Fuels journal from the American Chemical Society.
Although battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles won't have the same lubrication requirements of internal combustion engines, hybrids -- even gas-optional hybrids -- do. If this process can be scaled up to commercial use (and early indications are that it can), it could provide a transition lubricant for the Peak Oil future, and reduce the problem of plastics going into landfills.