Eco-friendly city: clean fuel

Dubai is rapidly becoming one of the most eco-friendly cities in the world, and forward-thinking cleantech companies such as The Neutral Group are helping the UAE achieve its green goals. Vision reports

The Neutral Group (TNG) has been making considerable headway since it set up in the UAE in 2011. The country is known for pushing boundaries, and has been investing heavily in cleantech in recent years, making it an ideal base for companies such as TNG. Launched in 2006, the firm offers a range of energy and carbon-reduction solutions for multinationals and governments. From its offices in the UAE, the group advises companies on how to improve fuel efficiency with their commercial fleets.

“The UAE has a huge logistics sector, due to its location at the crossroads of international trade,” says Karl Feilder, TNG’s Chairman. “Many of these vehicles run on diesel, and there is a strong desire both from private individuals and government to reduce their carbon footprint. Using biodiesel is one of the easiest ways to achieve this without any modifications to the vehicles. Many companies have already been looking to bring clean technologies to their way of operation.”

Fuel efficiency in the UAE is starting to become popular in the retail as well as the industrial sector. Sales of energy-efficient electric hybrid cars are picking up. Hybrid cars made by Lexus, the only vendor of hybrid vehicles in the UAE apart from Mercedes, increased by 15 per cent last year, according to Saud Abbasi, General Manager for Lexus at Al Futtaim Motors.

Clean alternative

TNG’s subsidiary Neutral Fuels has built the region’s first licensed commercial biodiesel factory in the Dubai Investments Park in Jebel Ali. Since commencing production in July 2011, it is the first commercial producer of 100 per cent biodiesel in the Middle East region. In the face of increasing energy demand and mounting concerns about global warming, biodiesel is rapidly growing in popularity as a clean alternative-energy source. Made from organic substances such as edible oils, biodiesel can be used in place of conventional diesel, cutting fuel costs.

Biofuel is manufactured from used products such as vegetable oil and is usually blended with normal diesel. The B100 variety that Neutral Fuels produces, however, is 100 per cent, or ‘pure’, biodiesel. As well as being environmentally friendly, it has excellent lubricating properties, which helps prevent premature engine wear and failure. It acts as a cleaning detergent in fuel systems, removing sludge deposited over time, and cleaning up fuel systems, improving efficiency and reducing long-term maintenance costs.

McDonald’s, which uses more than 20,000 litres of vegetable oil at its 90 outlets across the UAE, is just one of the multi-nationals that have signed up with TNG. Its trucks collect used cooking oil from McDonald’s outlets, which is then treated, and filtered into pure biodiesel. McDonald’s recycles its waste, then buys back fuel at the same price as normal diesel. Its fleet of trucks is now powered entirely by biodiesel. 

“We have more than a dozen companies using our biodiesel, from the very large to the very small, and ideally they use a pure, 100 per cent biodiesel,” says Feilder. Customers range from Martin Brower, Del Monte and Atlantis, the Palm to smaller clients, including local schools such as Gulf Indian High School, which uses biodiesel to run its fleet of 24 buses. According to Feilder, moving to biodiesel will put the school at the very top of the sustainability movement. “Gulf Indian High School runs a very well-maintained fleet that conforms to the regulations and specifications of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority and the Road and Transport Authority (RTA). In fact, like us, they won an RTA Award for Sustainable Transport in 2012, which is a measure of how good their fleet is,” he explains, adding that TNG intends to expand its bus network in the future.

Renewable energy

Neutral Fuels’ products have been welcomed with open arms in the UAE, which is launching a campaign to reduce its carbon footprint. With the rise of Masdar, the carbon-neutral city based in Abu Dhabi, the capital has positioned itself as a champion of renewable energy. The government recently announced plans to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions by 1.3 million tonnes over the next 10 years under the Clean Development Mechanism. Instigated by the United Nations Development Programme and the Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence, the five new projects will earn carbon-reduction credits in a scheme created under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The projects span a wide range of industrial and commercial sectors and involve innovative renewable-energy and energy efficiency solutions.

According to Feilder, the cleantech revolution has been building up for a long time in the UAE. “The UAE is leading the research, development and implementation of biofuels and is years ahead of any other Middle East country in turning this work into commercial reality. Its geographic location also makes it ideal for running businesses that span multiple time zones. The air connections makes the travelling easier, too. The Dubai Department of Economic Development was superb in the level of assistance it provided to help us relocate our HQ, and set up our manufacturing facility in Dubai,” says Feilder.

One major hurdle in the growth of this ‘green drive’ are the fuel subsidies. The low price for the fossil-based diesel is preventing the wide-scale adaptation of the environmentally friendly fuel. While recycled biodiesel is commercially viable alongside fossil-based diesel, biodiesel made from plants such as corn and grain in some cases can be more expensive, and has trouble competing with conventional fuel.

Feilder says this is not the case with the biofuel it produces. “We have now spent three years raising the under-standing of biofuels in the UAE, and this work is showing results. In the broader Middle East region, I think the subject is poorly understood, and the only question is ‘Is it cheaper than fossil diesel?’ We sell our biodiesel at the same price, which makes the decision to adopt biodiesel a lot simpler for our customers,” says Feilder.

As the only licensed biodiesel producer and seller in Dubai, TNG has been launching a quiet revolution in its campaign to reduce carbon emissions. As its client base expands, every little helps in the constant fight against climate change.