Neste: Putting poor quality waste fats into good use while keeping an eye on algae oil and waste plastic

Wednesday, Oct 12, 2016

Neste has become the world's largest producer of renewable fuels from waste and residues as a result of long-term work. This pioneer in the field has an exceptionally extensive portfolio of raw materials compared to competitors. The portfolio is actively developed with the aim of being expanded even further.

A significant part of Neste's research and development investments focus on research into new renewable raw materials. In particular, the company focuses on waste and residues that contain fat, which currently cover close to 80% of the raw materials of renewable products.

"Having as extensive a portfolio of raw materials as possible provides flexibility, which we need as a global company to serve multiple markets and meet their special requirements. At the same time, Neste creates credibility and vitality for the entire biofuel industry by also creating possibilities for other companies to utilize diverse raw materials," says Päivi Lintonen, Supply Development Manager from Neste's Renewable Products business area.

Lintonen is responsible for development work related to raw materials already utilized by Neste, such as developing the potential of the waste and residue streams of these materials.

Small streams around the world

Neste has been collecting fat from meat and fish processing industry's slaughter and gutting waste from a number of sources globally for several years. Other significant sources on a global scale are fat residues and used cooking oil from the food industry and restaurants.

According to Lintonen, the aim is to be able to utilize raw materials of increasingly poor quality, for which there have not been significant uses so far. From the circular economy and sustainability point of view, the aim is naturally also to obtain more added value from raw materials that could otherwise end up being merely incinerated.

"When considering a new raw material, the first task is to ensure that it meets sustainability criteria - both those laid down in legislation and Neste's own criteria, which are often even stricter. Only after this do we review how each raw material technically suits to be processed in our refineries."

Efficient utilization of residues

Many residues from the production of vegetable oils are suitable for use as raw materials for Neste's renewable products. Such residues include, for example, palm fatty acid distillate consisting of free fatty acids, i.e. inedible rancid fats that are removed from food industry oil to improve taste, color and odor.

Technical corn oil, on the other hand, is a residue of corn-based ethanol production and the related production process for animal feed, and is not suitable for human consumption. By utilizing the residues of vegetable oil production, Neste's raw material sourcing does not compete with food production; rather, it offers an emission-reducing and sustainable use for processing residues that are produced in any case in the food industry.

Another raw material worth mentioning is tall oil pitch, a residue produced in connection with the production of tall oil in the pulp industry, which Neste has already been using as a biocomponent blended with fossil fuel. More extensive ways of utilizing it are being researched.

Looking into new ways to accelerate circular economy

Lintonen's colleague Päivi Paakkarinen has longer-term development projects on her desk: renewable raw materials not yet used by Neste:

"To ensure growth, we must have a perspective of ten years from now, when the world will probably look completely different. The waste- and residue-based fats and oils utilized in the current refineries are, to some extent, limited sources for which we must seek new alternatives," Paakkarinen says.

Algae oil is one of the most important renewable future raw materials, one which Neste has already been researching for a long time and made sourcing preparations by making conditional off-take agreements with suppliers of algae oil, among other measures. Microalgae that produces algae oil are not yet cultivated on an industrial scale due to high costs. According to Paakkarinen, a promising process already exists, but finding suitable partners and a cooperation model are crucial issues.

"The required investments present a major challenge also for the utilization of forestry residues. More research work and technology developments are required before we can find a cost-efficient solution," Paakkarinen explains, although also in this sector, Neste has already carried out internationally trailblazing work related to both the development of technology and refining of raw material.

According to Paakkarinen, increasing significance of the circular economy will inevitably be a future trend.

"In our research, we also investigate the suitability of a wide range of recycled raw materials, such as waste plastic, as raw material for our refining. This way, waste material can be returned to circulation and reused several times."

Neste in brief

Neste (NESTE, Nasdaq Helsinki) creates sustainable choices for the needs of transport, businesses and consumers. Our global range of products and services allows customers to lower their carbon footprint by combining high-quality renewable products and oil products to tailor-made service solutions. We are the world's largest producer of renewable diesel refined from waste and residues, and we are also bringing renewable solutions to the aviation and plastics industries. We want to be a reliable partner, whose expertise, R&D and sustainable practices are widely respected. In 2015, Neste's net sales stood at EUR 11 billion, and we were on the Global 100 list of the 100 most sustainable companies in the world.
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