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Neste’s next step involves making plastic out of algae and landfill waste: “We are making huge investments in developing new things”

Last year, renewable fuel produced from waste and residue cut CO2 emissions by 10 million tonnes. Now, Neste is looking to use landfill waste or algae as raw materials for fuel and plastic. According to the vision of Salla Ahonen, Vice President, Sustainability, future business may renew resources instead of exploiting them.

Image: Petteri Tuukkanen, Berry Creative

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“Here at Neste, we have been producing renewable fuel for road and air transport for a long time. These days, we are also using the same technology as a raw material for plastics. Our fuels helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 million tonnes last year, corresponding to the annual CO2 emissions of one million Finnish people. Our aim is to ultimately cut emissions by between 20 and 30 million tonnes.

We mostly produce fuel and plastic raw materials from liquefied waste and residue streams, including animal fats, vegetable oils and frying fats. We are constantly developing different solutions for plastic based on renewable or recycled raw materials. In the future, landfill waste or algae could be used as raw materials for plastics.

Liquefied waste and residues are collected from various partners. A good example of producing renewable fuel is our pilot project with the City of Oakland in California. We recovered frying fats used in the city’s cafeterias and delivered them back to the city as fuel to be used in the city’s vehicles, including street sweepers and garbage trucks.

The technologies currently used by Neste had already been developed and patented in the 1990s. Around 2006, Neste started investing in the development of renewable fuel. At that point, our product did not even exist and no one was asking for it. This means that Neste developed a brand-new product to replace fossil fuel from scratch and created a market for it.

I have been working for Neste for two years, but I have 20 years of experience working in responsibility. What brought me here was the long-term thinking and pioneering spirit at Neste – we are making huge investments in developing new things. Around a quarter of our staff work in innovation, research and product development.

When I used to study energy technology and environmental protection, people often asked me what these two things have in common. Well, no one is asking about that anymore. Setting climate targets has become part of the day-to-day operations of governments, cities and organisations, and the targets are more ambitious than before and their achievement is also monitored. For example, at our company, the rewarding of management is bound to how well we do at achieving Neste’s climate targets.

I hope that we at Neste will be at the forefront of solving how companies can move from the excessive use of natural resources to a business model that renews natural resources instead. In the future, companies could do good things, reduce emissions, prevent biodiversity loss and guarantee fair working conditions, all at the same time.”

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