Beef Fat Turned Into Fuel at New Calgary Biodiesel Plant

biodiesel tanks photo

About the only thing green about this beef fat biodiesel are the tanks... Photo: Western Biodiesel

Tyson Foods is trying it with partnerships with Syntroleum Corp and ConocoPhillips, now the city of Calgary is trying to get in on the act... Making biofuels from beef tallow:Western Biodiesel has opened a new biodiesel facility in Aldersyde which will be using beef tallow and canola as feedstock. You can read the original article in BioEnergy Canada for the details on the plant’s capacity, etc., but what I want to point out, as others have already done, that using waste animal fat to make fuel is one of the most bone-headed ideas around right now.

Animal Fat Fuel is Far From Carbon Neutral
Let’s set something straight: Any claims about the carbon neutrality of these fuels is immediately suspect. Sure, this waste product exists, but the reason it exists is because of an industry that not only is inherently cruel towards animals, but is also responsible for a massive amount of carbon emissions. In fact, more than the global transport sector according to a 2006 UN report. It may be substituting for fossil fuels, but ultimately it’s not reducing carbon emissions one iota.

More Ethical Than Other Biofuel Sources?
Grist reported on a radio story on the plant which said, “The City of Calgary’s entire fleet of trucks and buses may soon be partly fueled by biodiesel produced from Alberta beef tallow. [...] Not only is the tallow in ready supply locally, turning it into biofuel recycles a product that would be normally thrown away. [...] Tallow-waste biofuel is more ethical than other alternative fuels, since it does not displace food crops such as corn... “

More ethical than other alternative fuels? You’ve got to be kidding me, right? Undoubtedly there are myriad problems with using food crops to make fuel, or using the land on which food crops are grown to produce fuel, but the answer to that problem is not simply taking the waste of another environmentally and ethically suspect activity and repurposing it.

Justifying It As Recycling a Waste Product Doesn't Cut It
John McGrath at Grist nails it:

That’s a neat trick of sunk-cost accounting. Sure, beef production is ridiculously carbon-intensive, making this biodiesel probably more climate hostile than even corn ethanol, but hey, we’ve already got all this surplus cow fat to get rid off. I’m all for waste recycling, but reducing the production of waste is the first step, right? [ital. in original]

And Anna Bowen at This Magazine adds another important twist,

I am totally into alternative sources of fuel, but when we’re resorting to the use of cows, the blubber from barnyard fowl, and corn to fuel our transportation needs, it’s always good to point out that we need to balance reducing our dependency on fuel with looking for alternative sources.

These sort of projects seem to be popping up with greater frequency lately, and it’s time to start openly calling them out for what they are: Greenwashing of environmentally destructive factory farming. In case you missed it in the photo caption, the only thing green about these sorts of fuels is if they are stored in green tanks.

via: Biofuels Canada, Grist, and This Magazine
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