It May Be Renewable But Is It Vegetarian? Dynamic Fuels to Make Jet Fuel From Animal Fat

factory farm chickens photo


Fellow TreeHugger Sami Grover covered the chicken fat-to-biodiesel controversy in North Carolina back in January. After hearing about this next announcement, I'm going to bring it up again: Is a fuel made from animal fats vegetarian or vegan? If it uses beef fat could it be used in good conscience by Hindus? Pork fat: Muslims or Jews? But I get ahead of myself...the news first.

Dynamic Fuels, a joint venture between Tyson Foods and Syntroleum Corp. has begun construction on a new fuel plant in Geismar, Louisiana which will be making biodiesel and jet fuel from "non-food grade animal fats such as beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat and greases."

Here are the details:75 Million Gallons Per Year by 2010
According to the new $138 million facility will have a capacity of 75 million gallons per year and employ 45 people when it is completed some time in 2010.

Despite the recent drops in oil prices, the senior vice president of Tyson Foods' renewable products group Jeff Webster remained upbeat about the prospects for the plant:

The demand is partially driven by fuel prices, but the larger factors are energy independence and national security concerns about relying on foreign imports.

Do Ethics or Pragmatism Win the Day?
That's all fine and good, and were it not for the feedstock to be used in this fuel, I might have been inclined to overlook this story as just another biofuels plant opening. Maybe a few years ago simply opening a plant was noteworthy, but today it's got to be a little more interesting for me to pass it on. And that's where the feedstock comes in; I return to the question that I led with.

If you are using beef tallow, pork lard, or chicken fat can you ethically use this fuel if you're vegetarian, vegan, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu?

Or do you come down on the side of pragmatism, as Sami did when he reported on the North Carolina story: It may be coming from a less-than-ideal source—in fact considering Tyson is involved in this venture, the animals fats are a direct byproduct of factory farming—but it's still better than using petroleum.

Is a Byproduct of Factory Farming Really Ever Green?
To address the lesser of two evils argument, I'd ask whether if the whole life-cycle of industrial animal raising is factored into the ultimate carbon footprint of this particular variety of biodiesel or jet fuel, do the environmental benefits, the carbon-neutral claims typical with such fuels, not just fly out the window?

If Entire Lifecycle Taken Into Account, Is It Really Better Than Petroleum?
It's one thing to make that claim for plant-based fuels (ignoring land-conversion issues as they related to carbon emissions), but I don't think you can make the same claim with an animal-based fuel. It may be waste that would otherwise be disposed of, and it may be a renewable source of energy, but the environmental impact of how that waste came into being is far from benign. I don't have statistics to say that a biofuel made from waste from the beef, pork or poultry industry is x times better or worse than petroleum in terms of carbon emissions, but it's something that can't be automatically assumed to be better.

You could argue, as Sami did, that industrial farming isn't going away and that at least the waste could be used for better purposes, but I don't think we can view the issues in isolation. Certainly neither factory farming, industrial agriculture, nor petroleum fuels will be eliminated overnight, or even over the next decade perhaps, but that is the direction we must head. I'm not convinced that using the waste products of factory farming in any way significantly contributes to its elimination, or to decreasing fossil fuel dependence.

Readers, Weigh In
Though if there were check boxes next to the five categories of conviction I listed above I could check off two of them, I'm going to confine my comments on this one to the lesser of two evils argument. What I want to know from readers is how you view this: If you're vegetarian, vegan, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or simply concerned about the impacts of industrial farming and animal raising, is a fuel based on animal fats acceptable to you?

via ::
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