Neste aims to use plastic scrap as fuel feedstock

The company’s target is to consume more than 1 million tons of plastic scrap annually by 2030.

Neste, a Helsinki-based producer of what it calls renewable diesel, announced June 18 that it is exploring ways to introduce liquefied plastic scrap as a raw material in fossil fuel refining. The aim of the development project is to proceed to an industrial scale trial during 2019. The company’s target is to process more than 1 million tons of plastic scrap annually by 2030.

"Neste has been ranked the world's second-most sustainable company, and we are already the world's largest producer of renewable diesel from waste and residues. Our target is to also be a leader in low-carbon refining and support the circular economy by developing innovative solutions based on [scrap] plastic," says Matti Lehmus, executive vice president of Neste’s Oil Products.

“With our strong legacy in raw material and pretreatment research, we are in a unique position to introduce [scrap] plastics as a new raw material for fossil refining. At the same time, we aim to provide solutions to support global plastic waste reduction,” Lehmus continues.

Using plastic scrap as a raw material would increase material efficiency, reduce crude oil dependency and lower the carbon footprint of products based on such raw material, the company says.

Chemical recycling set to increase recycling rate

In Europe, some 27 million tons of postconsumer plastic scrap is generated annually. Only about one-third of this amount is currently collected for recycling.

In January, the European Union released its “Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.” One of its objectives was to increase recycling of plastics and reuse of plastic packaging by 2030. In the EU Waste package, the recycling target for plastic packaging was raised to 50 percent by 2025 and 55 percent by 2030.

“In order to reach the ambitious EU plastics recycling targets, both chemical and mechanical recycling need to be recognized in the EU regulation,” Matti Lehmus says.

Chemical recycling means using plastic scrap as raw material for the refining and petrochemical industries to convert them into end products such as fuels, chemicals and new plastics. Chemical recycling can create new outlets for plastic scrap by enabling high-end product qualities, thereby complementing traditional mechanical recycling, Neste contends. 

Neste building partnerships across the value chain

Reaching industrial scale production of products from plastic scrap still requires development of technologies and value chains. To accelerate development, Neste says it is looking for partners across the value chain, for example in waste management and technology.

“The circular economy is built upon joint efforts,” Lehmus says. “We wish to partner with leading companies throughout the value chain who share our sustainability values and ambition and are ready to move forward with us.”

Forerunner in bio-based plastics

In addition to exploring ways to use plastic scrap as a raw material, Neste says it is helping the plastics industry and various plastics consuming companies reduce their crude oil dependency and climate emissions by producing durable and recyclable renewable plastics from bio-based raw materials, such as waste fats and oils. For example, Neste and IKEA will produce polypropylene (PP) plastic from fossil-free, bio-based raw materials at commercial scale this fall. This will mark the first time that bio-based PP is produced at a commercial scale, according to the firm.