SAS Environmental Services Blog

The Power of a Pilot to Reduce Risk for Oil Sludge Treatment

Posted by Sophie Cochrane on 27-Mar-2018 12:00:00
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"What are the possible risks to consider when running a pilot test?” A question we receive from many customers. It is a great question.     

In this blog the concept of a pilot test will be discussed in relation to oil sludge treatment, why this is important, some of the possible risks and a few tips to minimize these risks.   

First, what is a pilot test (sometimes referred to as a pilot experiment)? Wikipedia provides a useful definition when applied to engineering applications… 

“Pilot experiments are used to sell a product and provide quantitative proof that the system has potential to succeed on a full-scale basis. Pilot experiments are also used to reduce cost, as they are less expensive than full experiments. If there is not enough reason to provide full-scale applications, pilot experiments can generally provide the proof.” 

When we’re approached with a new oil sludge treatment challenge, there are typically 4 key steps we take in the implementation and optimization process: 

  1. Lab test – A quick lab test to determine if our chemistries are effective.
  2. Pilot test – A field-test using a similar process to the likely full-scale process. This is typically conducted over 1-5 days on a relatively small volume of waste.  This delivers clear data enabling a well-informed decision regarding implementation.
  3. Implementation – Scaling up the pilot approach to a full-scale operation
  4. Optimization – Continually optimizing the system to improve performance and efficiencies.

The pilot test is critical as it is the only way to provide real and relevant data to enable a well-informed decision before making a significant investment. A Pilot test is a risk reduction strategy in itself, but what are the risks associated with a pilot test? Below are a few of the possible risks and some strategies for addressing:

Risk: What if the product/process isn’t effective?

How to address: Always run a lab test first to determine which product is most effective on this waste stream. Lab tests need to be done on representative samples of the oil-contaminated waste that will be treated during the pilot. 

Risk: What if the equipment breaks down?

How to address: Have backup equipment if possible. If not possible, have key spare parts and access to repair services lined up.

Risk: What if we don’t get the data you need?

How to address: Clearly define the data required prior to the pilot and design the pilot to gain this data.   

Risk: What if the first attempts don’t deliver the desired results?

How to Address: Ensure the size of pilot (volume of waste, days, chemical, etc.) is sufficient for multiple tests.

Risk: What if the unexpected happens?

How to Address: Have the right people on site who have the ability to find solutions to the unexpected – people with expertise related to the equipment, the chemistry, the waste and local resources.

Depending on the situation, there could be any number of different risks. It’s impossible to eliminate risk entirely, but with thoughtful planning it’s possible to make a pilot test an extremely low risk way to test a new approach. 


Many different SASES customers have ran different pilot tests on different continents. The most exciting part about these pilot tests is the learning. Every situation is different, and regardless of the results from these tests, it’s guaranteed that everyone will be smarter about what works and what doesn’t.  

That's why we love pilots. 

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Topics: Oil Sludge Treatment