KLM Completes First Biofuel-Powered Scheduled Flight, With Factory Farmed Fuel

KLM plane wing photo

photo: James Lin/Creative Commons

Definite mixed environmental messages here: KLM has announced that it has completed the first biofuel-powered scheduled flight. Good, no, great.

Decidedly less great, bad even: The fuel used on the flight, from the Netherlands to Paris, was made by Dynamic Fuels, a joint venture between Syntroleum and Tyson Foods. Yes, the same Tyson Foods that is one of the world's largest meat processors.

So KLM's flight was essentially powered by dead cows, pigs, and chickens. And more are on the way.But the details of the flight, before some more commentary: The flight was made in a Boeing 737-800, carrying 171 passengers, and used a 50-50 blend of petroleum-based fuel and 'biokerosene'.

The fuel for this flight was produced from non-food grade animal fat, the byproduct of Tyson Food's massive meat processing operations, refined into biofuel at Dynamic Fuel's facility in Geismar, Louisiana.

By September of this year, KLM expects to be operating some 200 flights to Paris using this same fuel.

Dynamic Fuels Geismar facility was first announced a couple of years ago and began operating in October 2010.

Here's what I wrote at the time about the whole ethical can of worms opened up by using the byproducts of factory farming for fuel:

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? [I probably should've included Jain in that list...]

Or do you come down on the side of pragmatism? It may be coming from a less-than-ideal source...but it's still better than using petroleum.

As I concluded then, and maintain now: While this biofuel does use a byproduct that would otherwise just have to be thrown away (generally a good thing environmentally-speaking), when the activity producing that waste is of the magnitude of factory farming, generating so much environmental pollution and degradation, and creating so much suffering to animals, I have to come down against it.

Even from a strict carbon accounting standpoint, when the full lifecycle of factory farming is taken into account (and we know that is huge), I have a very hard time believing that using a fuel derived from factory farming actually reduces emissions (very much or at all...) compared to using fossil fuels.

Even if statistical analysis proves me wrong on that claim--I'm not sure those numbers have ever been crunched and am perfectly willing to be proven wrong--I still cannot in good conscience say that waste products from factory farming are a good way to power our planes, cars, or trains.

For those interested in a more in-depth analysis of animal fat biofuels from a Hindu perspective, I wrote a piece on Dynamic Fuels for the April/May/June 2009 issue of Hinduism Today.

More on Biofuels
It May Be Renewable But Is It Vegetarian? Dynamic Fuels to Make Jet Fuel From Animal Fat
Beef Fat Turned Into Fuel at New Calgary Biodiesel Plant

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