Waste has its uses, especially when they can be reprocessed or recycled. All of which adds up in taking on UAE's sustainability challenge. (Picture used for illustrative purpose only) Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: There’s renewable energy. Then there’s the clean energy possibilities.

And there is also a lot that businesses can do with used/recycled resources when it comes to meeting their needs. Or of their clients.

More UAE businesses are adding their weight behind the great sustainability drive – all of which will eventually add up to the Net Zero on carbon emissions by 2050 ambitions the country has set for itself.

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There is Aldar and the Abu Dhabi mega-bank FAB that have already carved out their sustainability goals, and setting the pathways to meet them. Expect more UAE businesses and organisations to do the same before the COP28 summit opens in the UAE by year-end.

Some have already started out on the process – and making good use of reprocessing or recycling. For Shiva Vig, it’s about making a statement through biofuel. The CEO of BIOD Technology operates a plant in Jebel Ali where it processes waste oil into bio-diesel. The investment in the facility entailed capital of $20 million.

The reason for that fairly substantial investment is clear-cut, says Vig. “In the past - even now, I say – used cooking oil (the waste oil) is being exported to the West, where it gets converted into bio-diesel,” said Vig. “Thereby not adding any value or employment in the UAE.

“Our aim was to add greater value to this waste in the UAE. The company BIOD - currently converts 2,000-2,200 tonnes of used cooking oil a month and employees 100 people directly and many more indirectly.

Stock - Shiva Vig
“For our current capacity, there is sufficient waste oil (used cooking oil) in the UAE and the region,” said Vig.

BIOD uses in-house technology to process all kinds of waste oil into bio-diesel, which is then blended with fossil-based diesel to a proportion of 7-10 per cent. This can be used in all diesel-run engines. Any why does bio-diesel matter? Because it offers a GHG (greenhouse gas) saving of 85 per cent as compared to fossil-generated diesel, add Vig.

Taking the bio-diesel concept overseas

The concept is taking wings, with Lootah Biofuels recently sealing an agreement with Maldives’ Fenaka Corp. to build the country’s first biofuel production plant. And using waste cooking oil.

At the time of the deal, Yousuf Saeed Lootah, CEO of Lootah Biofuels, said in a statement: “This is an important step in our strategy to grow and expand our business globally, which is in line with the UAE’s goals spearhead global action to fight climate change.”

The sustainability theme sure is getting traction.

Beeah’s is over-drive

“Masdar has been leading the way towards renewable/clean energy for some time now,” said an energy industry analyst. “The UAE has already made headway – and committed significant investments – to be ready when the whole blue/green hydrogen movement catches on.

“At the same time, there are niche entities such as (Sharjah-based) Beeah Group that wants to generate energy from landfills, etc.

“The waste-to-energy category could well be the next big thing.”

Clearly, waste put to good use does have considerable merits. Not least in the favourable impact it would leave on the environment all round.

Big on recycling

The UAE businesses are also starting to put a premium on recycling prospects. One such is re.life market, the online marketplace for B2B buying and selling of recovered commodities. In 2022, the platform saw trade in more than 150,000 tones of recyclable material, generating more than Dh100 million from the transactions.

There are other businesses that have found value in and from recycling. Cartlow bills itself as a ‘reverse logistics platform’ and takes in products to give them a ‘second life whenever possible’. Extending the lifespan of such products adds up to a bit in reducing the environmental impact they may have from an earlier than-necessary disposal into a landfill.

The products are then sold through Cartflow’s ‘re-commerce platform’ after undergoing a full refurbishment.

Unilever truck
The FMCG giant Unilever Arabia recently added its first electric van to its fleet in the UAE. The company, at the same time, continues to test out the possibilities of deploying alt-fuels for its fleet needs.Since late 2022, Unilever has been testing biodiesel in the UAE with two trucks, ‘which reduce CO2 emissions by up to 15% compared to conventional fuels’.

Backing of investors

Private equity industry sources say that the UAE’s renewable-clean-recycled space and businesses within it will find it easier to tap new investments. Their moment in the sun has come, the sources add.

“Any business that can show they have something new to reduce the load on the environment will get serious attention,” said the head of an alt-investment firm. “Five or 10 years ago, agritech startups may not have received due attention from investors in the region. Now, they are at the center of any talk about investment priorities, because food security has raised their profile.

“The same will happen with businesses that make good use of waste and repurpose it. A ‘circular economy’ requires that.”

Putting waste to good use can be good business.