Fossil oil is of fundamental significance to a modern society, both as a source of energy and as a chemical raw material. Refined oil is used to produce a wide variety of products such as petrol, diesel, heating oil and tarmac. It also is an ingredient in plastics, fabrics, hygiene and beauty products. The availability of high-quality oil is limited, while heavy oil reserves will last for hundreds of years. There are multiple and well-documented environmental problems caused by the production and use of oil products, including various types of local and global air pollution, the spread of heavy metal and carbon dioxide emissions which affect the climate.
Sweden has no useable oil wells, but it does have refineries where oil is processed. Nynas is one of the companies operating in this area, and is a world-leader in the production of specialist oils. At present, the primary raw material is an extremely viscous heavy oil from Venezuela, which is not suitable for petrol and diesel production. It is, however, ideal for the production of oils which are expected to perform well for a long period of time in various applications, e.g. transformers, printing ink, tyres and roads.
Environmentally-adapted fossil oils for tyre production
Nynas is currently developing naphtenic oils suitable for use as softeners in car tyres. The aim is to make them a good alternative to the toxic oils currently used by the world’s tyre producers. The EU has decided that these carcinogenic high aromatic oils, or HA oils, must not be used in tyres after 2010, since HA oils end up in the natural environment as tyres wear down. They are also a problem in the working environment. The alternative to HA oils must provide at least the same braking performance, and also have equivalent safety and technical properties. The tyre manufacturers are now working intensively to find alternatives.
Naphtenic oils can also be used in other rubber products, and as additives in everything from printing ink to lubricants. They dissolve better than other oils, which means that the amount added can be reduced.
Tarmac which absorbs noise
Traffic noise is a significant problem to which several million individuals in Europe are exposed. Progress has been made in reducing engine noise, but another important component of overall noise levels is the noise generated by tyres moving across the road surface. Various approaches to solving this problem are currently being examined. Nynas produces an extra strong binding agent which makes it possible to produce tarmac with gaps where the sound, and even rain water, can be absorbed into the surface.
Another approach, in which Nynas is not involved, is to add rubber waste to the finished tarmac. At present, a trial is underway in the Municipality of Lund where pieces of old tyres, only a millimetre in diameter, are added to the black binding agent in the tarmac. The quality of the tarmac has become more even, and the Swedish National Road Administration is monitoring the trial with great interest. Another health and environmental benefit expected from this method is that it reduces the quantity of particles released from the road surface.
This article was first published in Advantage Environment printed in February 2008