We knew that biodiesel would come to be viewed as a key US national security solution, on a par with ethanol, and on a scale as has already been achieved in Europe. Apparently enough regulatory and market incentives are now in place, encouraging a major oil company to find a way to capture the biodiesel genie that Willie Nelson and his merry band of Tree Huggers set loose. With animal fat diesel almost ready to hit the road...chicken pork and beef fats are soon to be Texas oil refinery bound..it still seems a surprise. Via Wall Street Journal (subscription only):- "ConocoPhillips and Tyson Foods Inc. say they plan to make diesel fuel from animal fat,...[under an agreement in] which Tyson will send beef, pork and chicken fat from a food-processing plant in Texas to a nearby ConocoPhillips refinery to make diesel...using much the same chemical process that turns crude oil into motor fuel. It will come out of the refinery as part of the regular diesel-fuel mix, distributed through existing pipelines and sold as regular diesel fuel." (Lloyd covered this months before from an historic perspective.) Immediate question: will breathing diesel fumes become a problem for strict vegetarians? Oops.Also from the WSJ story:- "Tyson produces about 300 million gallons of beef, pork and chicken fat each year. About 58% of its fat production will go to the diesel deal once it is ramped up. Currently Tyson sells its fat for use in such products as cosmetics, soap and pet food. Producing one 42-gallon barrel of renewable diesel requires about one barrel of animal fat. And each barrel requires, on average, two steers, or 16 hogs or 1,300 chickens, Tyson officials say."
What makes this particularly fascinating is that the Tyson produced animal fats already had established markets, including pet food manufacturing. Is the market switch due to the fact that the refinery is close by, cutting hauling costs; or, might it be a premium price offered by the nearby refinery? Let's assume it is the latter in part. Refinery sulfur emissions are often regulated on a production basis: Kg S02 emitted per ten-thousand gallons of diesel output, for example. A low-sulfur feedstock, then, offers a handy way to meet emission limits and run a renewable, more energy-secure diesel product line. And in a bizzare bit of industrial ecology, chicken processing plant employees may have healthier air to breathe.
Let's assume our hypothetical Smaltz-fueled diesel gets 35 mpg. Based on the cited numbers, that's about 31 chickens per gallon: which equates to 1.1 miles per chicken. Call it a mile-per chicken: close enough for TreeHugger work.
So. Why did the Tyson chicken cross the road? To get to the refinery of course. (Thankfully, organic arsenic compounds will not have to be processed out of the fat to enable the refinery to meet ambient air quality standards. Tyson was one of the first major chicken packers to end the half-century old ritual of feeding chickens arsenic.)
Why couldn't the free-range organic chicken cross the road? It's a very wide road and we're waiting for the punchline.
Image credit: Chicken Diesel Confusion - Santa Fe Poetry Broadside