(EnergyAsia, May 22 2012, Tuesday) — Finland’s Neste Oil said it is using fish waste fat from Southeast Asian farms to produce its ‘NExBTL’ brand of renewable diesel fuel at its controversial biofuel refinery in Singapore.

The company, which started out using palm oil and crop waste, said the fat comes from the processed waste of the freshwater pangasius catfish which is widely farmed in Vietnam and neighbouring countries.

“As with all the other renewable inputs, this batch of waste fish fat complies with the strict sustainability requirements of the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive. The batch can be traced all the way back to the fish farm,” said a Neste statement.

“Waste fish fat is also accepted as a raw material for renewable fuel in the US. The NExBTL renewable diesel produced from the batch cuts greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 84%* when compared to fossil diesel and calculated over the fuel’s entire life cycle. Using NExBTL diesel also reduces tailpipe and fine particulate emissions significantly.”

Despite much criticism from environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Neste invested 550-milllion euro in the 800,000-tonne/year biofuel plant to process mostly palm oil into diesel for export to Europe. The plant, which opened in late 2010, is struggling to make a profit as palm oil costs have risen sharply.

Most biofuel projects using food crops have also beel slammed for contributing to the rise in food costs that have hurt the poor around the world.

“It makes good ecological sense to use waste and sidestreams to produce advanced, premium-quality renewable fuel, which is why our goal this year is to increase the amount of by-products and waste we use as raw materials by hundreds of thousands of tons compared to 2011,” said Matti Lehmus, Neste Oil’s Executive Vice President, Oil Products and Renewables.

“In addition to focusing on waste and sidestreams, we are continuing R&D on completely new types of raw materials. We are currently building Europe’s first pilot plant to produce microbial oil from waste and residues-based raw materials at our Technology Center in Porvoo, Finland, and expect to complete it during the second half of this year, in line with our previous announcement.”

The company said its NExBTL technology is capable of processing a very wide variety of different bio-based materials including vegetable oils, waste animal fat and by-products from vegetable oil production into renewable diesel.