The Northern Oil Refinery (NOR) in Queensland, Australia is one of the world’s most advanced re-refining plants, capable of recycling waste lube oil into base oil for use in the mining, automotive, transport, and agricultural industries.

Jointly developed by Southern Oil and JJ Richards and Sons, the facility can re-refine up to 100 million litres of waste lube oil a year.

The construction works were started in late 2012 while the recycling facility began commercial operations in March 2014.

The Northern Oil Refinery is capable of processing Queensland’s entire waste lube oil production and approximately 30% of Australia’s total waste oil output.

The facility is intended to help reduce Australia’s reliance on oil imports while providing sustainable waste oil recycling option for truck fleets, heavy vehicle operators, mines and local governments.

The project was recognised with Innovation in Sustainable Technologies award at the 2015 Queensland Premier's Sustainability Awards.

Location and site details

The Northern Oil Refinery facility is located near Yarwun in the Gladstone region of Queensland, Australia.

The site also houses a £10m (A$18m) advanced biofuel pilot plant that produced more than one million litres of fuel for industrial and maritime operations since its commissioning in 2017.

Northern Oil Refinery details

The environmentally sustainable waste oil re-refining facility comprises 16 prefabricated modules erected at the site using a 400 tonne (t) crane. The modules were procured from New Zealand.

The NOR plant uses Southern Oil’s re-refining ten-step separation and extraction process, which produces 61 litres of base oil for every 100 litres of waste lube oil received. The process includes dewatering, defueling, demineralisation, vacuum distillation, and distillate treatment.

The re-refined base oil produced at the NOR facility includes two grades of group 1 base oils, SN150 light base oil (SORBO/NORBO 32) and SN300 heavy base oil (SORBO/NORBO 52). The base oil output is sold to the customers to blend with additives.

The ‘cradle to cradle’ oil treatment process keeps lube oil handy for productive use while reducing carbon emissions during oil treatment. The re-refinery facility offsets approximately 290,000t of carbon-dioxide emissions per year.

Feedstock for the Northern Oil Refinery

The waste lube oil required for the NOR facility is collected by J.J. Richards. The oil undergoes primary treatment at an aggregation facility prior to the refining process.

Southern Oil Refining singed a domestic gas sales agreement (GSA) with Senex Energy in September 2020, under which Senex will supply 2.5 petajoules of natural gas to the NOR facility.

The agreement will allow expansion of operations at the NOR and will create 32 direct jobs in addition to several indirect jobs.

Northern Oil advanced biofuel pilot project details

The Northern Oil advanced biofuel pilot facility processes materials like sugarcane bagasse and prickly acacia as feedstock for production of bio-crude oil which are transformed into saleable kerosene and diesel products.

The processed products are supplied to the US Navy for field trials conducted as part of its Great Green Fleet initiative, Australian Defence Force, Australian heavy road transport operators and aviation sector. Other materials used for processing comprise of waste tyres and green waste.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) supported the development of the pilot facility by contributing £1.3m (A$2.37m) for the £3m ($5.3m) laboratory.

The pilot project will be followed by the construction of commercial-scale biofuel plant with a production capacity of 200m litres per annum of advanced biofuels for use in the military, marine, and aviation sectors.

Contractors involved

Fitzroy Engineering served as the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor for the Northern Oil Refinery facility.

The scope of the contract involved in-house mechanical design, site’s mechanical construction and commissioning, and fabrication of pipe bridges, structural steelworks, tank farm piping, and supports.