Issue Summer 14
Who do you call when petroleum products spill, must be recycled or are mixed with contaminants that need to be removed? During the massive BP oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, it was Aaron Oil.
“We process a lot of the materials that are generated from the cleanup of oil spills,” founder and CEO Dan Cowart says. “We don’t actually clean them up. We provide a lot of the logistics, transportation and processing of the different products and different materials that are generated from the cleanup of oil spills.”
Aaron Oil collects oils, oil filters, oily water, sumps, solids, tank bottoms from petroleum (fuel) products, sludge from used oil and fuel sources and antifreeze, as well as other petroleum fuel products that have been contaminated with used oil, water or solids. The company removes excess water, solids, ash and light ends that reduce fuel performance or increase the risk of equipment malfunctions, environmental contamination and unnecessary air emissions. Its maritime operations treat contaminated bilge water that is carried in the hulls of ships to provide ballast. The company also is a brown water fuel/gas oil supplier in Gulf Coast markets.
“The differentiation between us and most companies in our industry is that we don’t handle hazardous waste,” Cowart explains. “All our material is just used oil or petroleum fuel reclamation, as well as crude oil-type reclamation from exploration, production and transportation-related pipe materials from outside the refinery.”
Cowart estimates that Aaron Oil has approximately 10 to 15 competitors in oil recycling and several in maritime petroleum reclamation. “We’re a middle-sized company,” Cowart says. “What I believe differentiates us is we have one of the most experienced management teams by far. We’ve never stopped investing and continuing to look at better ways of doing what we do. We continue to employ the latest technology. The biggest challenge I see in most businesses is to do the research and to know what the next technology is going to be, and to make sure that it has enough payback time before the next technology that makes that technology obsolete. Our company operates by the highest environmental, health and safety standards in the world (ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001).”
Aaron Oil’s engineers have been designing automated processing facilities and writing software in-house since 1984. “This is one of those businesses that there’s not a lot of off-the-shelf stuff that is available,” Cowart notes. “We have a very robust data system that is updated every 15 seconds with real-time information from all the automation. So we get real good information to make decisions that really don’t require humans to input data. Over the years, it has become a very sophisticated information and data system that we rely on throughout the organization.”
Each oil reclamation project is unique. “Every batch and everything that we do is different,” Cowart emphasizes. “Some people refer to each truckload and batch that is processed as a ‘science project,’ because you have a slightly different blend of different materials in each batch.”
Motor Oil Pickup
Aaron Oil’s single processing plant is on 10 acres of its 20-acre site in Saraland, Ala. The company also has several hubs where oil for recycling is collected and shipped to the processing plant. “On the oil and petroleum side, we have four different types of processing,” Cowart says. “We have three different types of wastewater processing. Our core business has been used motor oil recycling, but we also handle a number of petroleum fuel and crude oil materials from major oil companies and different terminals around the country.”
The company’s fleet of collection trucks for used motor oil services covers the Southeast from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Fla., and west to Houston. Aaron Oil also has vacuum tankers and bobtail vacuum trucks. “Our trucks are unique in that all vacuum trucks are double compartments,” Cowart points out. “We have the ability to separate solids and liquids onboard. You’d have to have two vacuum trucks normally to do that.” The company also has unique vapor recovery and degassing technology that converts recovered volatile organic compounds into electric power with virtually zero air emissions.
The custom-manufactured trucks were designed by Aaron Oil with proprietary systems and software that perform many operations automatically, such as shutting off pumps when the truck’s tanks are full and then issuing invoices. The trucks have automated logging systems, GPS and video systems for use in insurance claims and training.
Unlike competitors that make lubricants from recycled oil, Aaron Oil produces various fuel oils, such as ones for power plant and diesel fuel, from its recycled oil. “With all of our research and our experience, we still believe that making a high-quality fuel oil is where the demand is,” Cowart insists. “The lubricants industry says it is grossly oversupplied at least through 2020 or 2021. Today, most companies in the refinery industry are losing money.”
That is not the problem for Aaron Oil. Cowart says the company’s revenue has consistently grown year-to-year, and Aaron Oil has been listed in the Inc. 5000 for the past six years as one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation. For the future, the company is exploring using robots to clean its tanks and employing driverless vehicles when the technology is perfected.
The company has been collaborating with the University of South Alabama on providing the oil recycling industry with an education arm to ensure that the industry’s knowledge and experience is captured and transferred to the next generation. Aaron Oil also is working with the National Oil Recycling Association to create educational programs for the industry. “It’s a very fast-paced world right now,” Cowart stresses. “I think change is probably the greatest challenge every business has. We definitely don’t want to have our heads in the sand.”