Soylent Coal is Really Dead Cows
If you have gotten past the issues with your cheeseburger's carbon footprint and you want to be left to eat your burgers in peace, you might want to jump to the next article now. But if you are the curious type, a little digging into the facts behind a recent article in The Herald about Energy from Dead Cows will expose the underbelly of the Meat and Bone Meal (MBM) waste product management industry.
The Herald reports that the Oran Group intends to build a "renewable energy plant" partnered with a rendering plant to generate power for up to 9000 homes. Is your first reaction running something like this: "How much energy could a dead cow have? Can you imagine setting fire to a cow? Is this the ultimate offense in playing the "green card" to waltz past the regulating authorities?" Then you will be astounded, and possibly appalled, to learn that Meat and Bone Meal, the official industry term for abbatoir waste ground finely enough for use as an energy source, is a common source of fuel to cement kilns and energy recovery facilities everywhere. Put that in the category of "never thought about that before." Is this one step ahead of "Soylent Coal is People!"?In fact, 1.4 tons of MBM can provide the same energy as 1 ton of coal. MBM users can garner credit for CO2 reductions by co-feeding MBM with coal. And the kiln operators earn a pretty penny for the safe disposal of meat wastes which would otherwise threaten the release of mad cow disease and other pathogens. The Oran Group's decision to site the rendering plant and energy recovery facility side-by-side will reduce the emissions currently derived from the long distance transport of MBM to kilns that are approved to burn this wastestream.
The plan is to start processing MBM two years before building the incinerator. If the Oran Group has some good engineers on staff, they may be able to use some recent PhD work that suggests MBM needs to be processed to particle sizes under 200 micrometers to efficiently co-burn with coal. Oran will use other biomass, such as wood and dried sludge cake, but the models developed for coal can certainly be used to optimize the Oran processing. Additionally, the design of the incinerator, since it is new, could be perfectly tweaked for the properties of the intended fuel, unlike most existing plants that need to keep the co-feed % low because the design was intended for coal only. If the Oran Group does this correctly, it could be a real eco-plus. Of course, if we all ate soya-burgers it would be more of an eco-plus, but it is outside the scope of this article to address whether the nutritional and psychological demands of all mankind can be met with a vegetarian diet. That is ultimately the underbelly of the matter: as long as people eat meat, intelligent optimization of the environmental impacts of cow wastes will remain one piece in the sustainability puzzle.
Having allowed the concept to enter one's formerly naive and untroubled musings, one can only speculate on the trajectory that the perfect eco-engineering of "renewable animal fuel sources" could take. Why stop at cows? Will pets be next? How long until "Soylent Coal is People"? Think about it. Then enjoy your veggie-burger.