Awards Category: Business Founder/Owner
Founder and CEO, FatHopes Energy Sdn. Bhd.
Vinesh Sinha is the founder and CEO of FatHopes Energy, which turns waste oils from the food industry in Malaysia into biofuels that are marketed to companies all over the world. He started the company with the money he got from a refund from London’s School of Commerce after he dropped out. His passion for waste recovery and the potential of waste has taken him places since – he has been the Waste Recovery Policy Advisor at the Penang Institute, the Alternative Energy Advisor for Sarawak Energy Berhad and the Founder and Director for sustainable and alternative energy solutions player Minenergy. His entrepreneurial fervour also led him to be part of Unreasonable, which he describes as ‘an organisation, investment fund and private global network dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs positioned to bend history in the right direction.’
Creating a Better Future
Vinesh has always been fascinated by waste; as a teen, he tried converting waste fuel into reusable fuel for his own diesel-fuelled car. After learning about biofuel – right before he was sent to the London School of Commerce in the UK to further his studies – he soon found himself moving away from his studies and volunteering at companies involved in waste-oil biodiesel production to learn more about their processes instead. He then took the RM80,000 refund he got from dropping out of college to invest in a small biowaste oil processing plant he had been volunteering at; he acquired it at a big discount and brought the machinery – and himself – home, all without his parents’ knowledge.
In 2009, he got his first opportunity when a UK-based logistics provider was looking for a local supplier to produce waste-oil biodiesel for them. No one was about to give him waste oil for free, though, so he convinced suppliers to sell him their waste oil on credit. After starting FatHopes Energy in 2010, he got a big break when he convinced McDonald’s – through its food supplier MacFood Services – to allow him to convert their waste cooking oil into usable biofuel and send it back to their factory. But he didn’t have the capabilities to collect the oil himself from each restaurant, so he had to think of a solution that would solve this logistical problem. He installed a carrier in every MacFood truck which would carry the waste from McDonald’s outlets to the MacFood factory in Sunway, where trucks returned to after their deliveries.
This early carrier model was the inspiration for the proprietary smart tank technology that FatHopes Energy uses today. Eateries can dispose used cooking oil directly into the tank, which transmits data to FatHopes Energy so that they know when a tank is filled and ready for collection. This not only improves logistical efficiency but prevents theft of used cooking oil; barrels of cooking oil are sometimes stolen and sold to refineries who convert it back to new cooking oil – the tanks have put a stop to this practice while also allowing better traceability of the oil. So, in effect, FatHopes Energy has also begun innovating the supply chain of waste oil collection.
The conversion of waste oil into biofuel not only helps take waste oil completely out of the food chain, and reduces carbons emissions, making it the ideal solutions for reducing the carbon footprint of food industry players. According to Vinesh, his end goal is to develop a self-propagating business model that takes into consideration economic and environmental sustainability as well as social responsibility.
Upon returning to Malaysia in 2009, Vinesh discovered that it would be next to impossible to operate his business without working capital. Eateries and food companies weren’t about to let him have their waste oil for free, so he had to convince them to part with their oil on a credit basis.
The other major challenge was to figure out how to collect and move the oil from their points of origin. Normally, used cooking oil is stored in barrels, and these are often stolen by individuals to be resold for side income. To prevent this – and solve his collection problem – he installed carriers on tankers to carry the waste oil away from the outlets and to a centralised area near him, providing his client with a smart and lower carbon footprint solution.
When global oil prices plummeted in 2013, local demand for FatHopes Energy’s produce also shrunk, as regular fuel was priced more affordably. The company had to make inroads into the export market instead, and was fortunate that the European markets started capping the use of food-based biofuels, thus boosting the market for non-food based biofuels such as FatHopes Energy’s waste oil equivalent.
Today, FatHopes Energy covers over 35,000 available used cooking oil points of origin in Malaysia, dominating around 70% of the local market and collecting up to 19,000 tonnes of waste oil a month. Its 2.6-acre site near Sungai Buloh yields about 17,000 tonnes of biodiesel a month, all of which are exported to Europe. In 2017, it turned in sales of RM575 million.
The company has also diversified its waste oil feedstock, and currently collects over 30 different types of used oil for processing, including palm-based waste oil and grease. Vinesh also plans to expand its reach into other countries to tap into the huge availability of waste oil around the region; it plans to move into Indonesia by the third quarter of 2018, and cover the ASEAN region by 2020.
It’s not surprising that Vinesh has been nominated for some very prestigious accolades, including the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2017 and the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Asia list, under the Industry, Manufacturing & Energy category.