Is Importing Recycled Grease for Biodiesel Still Green?


Image credit: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble, used under Creative Commons license.

We already know that all biofuels are not created equal. Palm oil biodiesel often has staggering carbon emissions, and using chicken fat to make fuel has upset many vegans. But, generally speaking, recycled vegetable oil is considered a pretty green feedstock. Unless, of course, you start shipping it in from abroad...Recycled Biodiesel Producers Fight for Support
There's been a debate brewing for a long time around what does and does not constitute sustainable biodiesel in the UK. Over at Business Green, Mark Sneesby of the UK Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, recounts how producers of biodiesel from recycled oils fought to keep a tax differential that was threatened to be withdrawn due to Government concerns about less sustainable forms of biofuels.

The industry won a temporary reprieve until 2012. This reprieve, says Sneesby, has lead to a growth in recycling and waste-to-energy projects:

"Because there is now a market for waste, the retrieval of waste products such as used cooking oil has increased markedly in the private sector and some local authorities are now offering domestic waste oil collection facilities at their recycling centres - all of which means less waste to landfill and lower utility costs."

Growth in Recycling Leads to Imported Feedstocks
Interestingly, however, Sneesby also notes an unintended consequence of this support for recycled biodiesel. In yet another reminder that there are always unintended consequences when waste becomes a resource, it seems that UK biodiesel producers are now shipping in some of their recycled vegetable oil from abroad:

"The only downside has been the increase in imports of used cooking oil to feed the bio-diesel industry, which has not only driven up the cost of feedstock, but raises concerns over the environmental impact through the supply chain, so this is something we will need to address going forward."

Recycled Biodiesel is Still Green(er)
Of course, given that feed stocks for conventional fuels and less sustainable biofuels are often imported too, shipping in vegetable oil doesn't necessarily negate the positive impact of recycled biodiesel. But it is a significant warning sign that there are no silver bullets, that recycled vegetable oil cannot power the world, and that we need to pay attention to the supply chains of even the most benign-seeming green technologies.

Above all, we need to learn how to curb our appetite for energy and mobility, so we can do more with less, and maybe each country can start using up its own vegetable oil rather than shipping it abroad. Sneesby's group is working to do just that. It's good to see them keeping an eye on the ball.

More on Waste to Energy
Waste as a Resource: The Unintended Consequences of Zero Waste
But Is It Vegan? The Chicken Fat for Biofuel Debate Heats Up
Man Arrested for Stealing Grease to Make Biodiesel
Producing Biodiesel from Trap Grease: Fry-O-Diesel

Tags: Biofuels | Economics | Fuel Efficiency | Oil | Recycling | United Kingdom | Zero Waste