Where's the Beef? It's Heating Swedish Homes
Chart showing turning a cow into fuel via Biomal.
Biomal, which is defined as a "renewable" fuel created from crushing and grinding animal wastes and burning them together with wood chips or peat, is quietly used by Swedes (and initially funded by the EU) as a more environmentally friendly way than simple rendering to get usable energy from animal carcasses. And safer, too, Biomal's creator Scandinavian Energy Systems/Konvex has said, as it reduces the risk of bovine spongiform encephalitis by diverting animal products from the food chain and putting them into the energy chain. A small Swedish city is newly convinced, and has signed up to use the biomal fuel at its local utility. So is biomal "green"?
At Karlskoga plant, the "receiving" bins. Via Biomal.
What to do with animal waste
Since October 2000, the European Union has stipulated that the huge mass of animal waste - in other words, carcasses - from slaughterhouses has to be destroyed by combustion in order to avoid it being re-introduced into the human food supply. At the time, this was the European response to the threat of mad cow disease spreading to humans.
As Biomal puts it in promotional literature, 16 million tons of animal by-products are produced annually in Europe, and the costs for rendering and destroying this raw material exceed € 1 billion.
So the Scandinavian Energy Project got together with Sweden's largest renderer, Konvex, and figured out how to use the animal by-products to produce a fuel that they call biomal. It is a greener solution, SEP says, because instead of separating, drying, and sterilizing the animal waste products and then turning them into fat, meat meal, and bone meal, the biomal process just crushes and grinds the animal bodies into a fuel "with the consistency of minced meat" which can be pumped or trucked and combined in boilers with a base fuel such as wood chips to make electricity and heat.
That makes biomal more energy efficient than traditional rendering, and SEP claims that the resultant fuel "doesn't contribute to global warming" and can replace fossil fuels for heat and electricity production. From the perspective of lifecycle analysis this contention seems like it could be shaky, as the raising of beef cattle in particular significantly contributes to the total concentration of global warming gases in the environment. Biomal's "fuel" however, can also come from culled wild animals killed as pests in parks, such as bunnies in Stockholm.
Swedes consider biomal to be a legitimate biofuel, and the only plant in Karlskoga is delivering the fuel to five communities in Southern Sweden. The SEP/Konvex plant itself uses just 13% of the energy that would be required to render the same amount of animal material in a traditional rendering plant, according to the Biomal web site.
Now the small city of Borås near Gothenburg is also planning to use biomal - the local utility plans to combust 15,000 tons of biomal each year, turning it into electriicity and communal heating.
To the Swedes, biomal is a biofuel, and thus it is green. However, it raises an issue many of us would prefer not to think about, and that is the huge amount of animal killing that goes on systematically in order to provide societies with an every increasing amount of meat, and now, fuel. While plenty of stories on using animal fats as or old animal oils to make fuels have been written, when the dead animals go directly from the grinder to the boiler it is a more graphic solution that gives pause.
As Lierre Keith notes in her book, The Vegetarian Myth, agriculture in general is a lot more brutal of a business than we may like to believe, and includes its share of indiscriminate killing.
So should we think of biomal as a handy way to reuse animal waste and continue to press for sustainable farming that includes humane animal husbandry, or opt out of meat eating completely and pursue a kinder, gentler vegetarianism?
Read more about animal-based biofuels at TreeHugger:
Dead Bunny Rabbits Burned for Bioenergy in Sweden
Swedes Conclude Beef Bigger Ecoburden Than Ethanol
Beef Fat Turned Into Biofuel at New Calgary Biodiesel Plant
LiveFuel to Farm Fish to Make Biofuel = Bad Idea