A second career for used cooking oil: The Finnish company Neste turns this and other waste materials into renewable diesel, also known as HVO100. MAN Engines has given many of its engines the green light for this fuel.
Used cooking oil, fish waste or fat from meat production are among the waste materials that Neste, based in Espoo, Finland, turns into a fuel that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 percent compared with fossil diesel. HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) is a perfect substitute for fossil diesel as it can be used immediately for all diesel engines without any engine modifications. For the most part, HVO only emits the CO2 that was previously bound in the raw materials. “This closed loop allows us to reduce carbon emissions in the transport sector by up to 90 percent,” explains Mats Hultman, Head of OEM Partnerships at Neste.
It is therefore no wonder that dozens of companies around the world work with Neste – including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners in the Netherlands, and IKEA. Lots of diesel engines from MAN Engines have also been approved for the use of HVO. “The fact that HVO can reduce their CO2 emissions immediately and cost-effectively is very important to our customers,” says Hultman. “Bus companies in Scandinavia were among our first partners, but more and more logistics companies, cogeneration unit operators and data centres are now also interested in this fuel.” They can all continue using their existing infrastructure while also becoming significantly more sustainable. Neste is also a leading producer of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and renewable raw materials for various applications in the polymer and chemical industries.
The production of this renewable diesel begins with the collection of residues and waste material, which Neste sources from around the world. These are first cleaned in one of the refineries in Finland, Singapore or the Netherlands. Hydrogen is then used to remove any oxygen from the molecules, leaving pure hydrocarbons.
When it was founded in 1948, Neste had one priority, namely to secure Finland’s oil supply and reduce dependence on neighbouring Russia. As early as the mid-1990s, Neste patented its in-house NEXBTL technology to convert fats into molecules that can replace fossil raw materials in fuel production. A good ten years later, the company invested in industrial production facilities in Porvoo (Finland), Rotterdam and Singapore. Production of renewable diesel began in 2007 at the first NEXBTL refinery in Porvoo, Finland.
Neste’s current global production capacity for renewable products is 3.3 million tonnes. This figure is set to increase to 5.5 million tonnes by early 2023. The world’s biggest producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel aims to increase this amount to 6.8 million tonnes by 2026. “In 2022 alone, our renewable products prevented the emission of over eleven million tonnes of greenhouse gases, which equates to the annual CO2 footprint of four million cars,” calculates Hultman.
However, this alone is not enough. “In 2019, about 4.5 billion tonnes of oil equivalent were consumed worldwide, of which 2.7 billion tonnes were used for mobility and transport,” says Hultman. “In 2020, renewable fuels have already replaced almost 100 million tonnes of oil equivalent, and by 2040 this figure could reach over 1,000 million tonnes.” He does not think there will be any shortage of raw materials for HVO production as 50 million tonnes of waste materials such as cooking oil are already available every year, and in the future it will also be possible to process algae, wood residues (lignocellulose) as well as household and plastic waste into renewable fuels. “In total, that would add up to well over 1,000 million tonnes of raw material per year,” says Hultman. “However, it is also important that using these materials means we do not compete with food cultivation.”
Technically, therefore, there is nothing standing in the way of increasing the use of renewable fuels. Hultman believes it is now up to politicians to help them achieve a further breakthrough. He says, “unfortunately, they often know very little about HVO, so we keep having to explain it. Renewable fuels could be used to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions without modifications to existing engines.”
Header image: © Neste