According to a C|NET News report researchers in Louisana have researched the use of “Alligator fat” to produce biodiesel. This is yet another in a long string of researchers developing a method to convert animal fats directly into biodiesel. Some people will go “eeewwww” over this. While others might get a warm fuzzy feeling that someone is working on the problems of climate change and peak oil by developing alternatives. What I see however is closer to greenwashing, and wasting time on developing a fuel source for an extremely small pool of material. But maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye? Let’s take a think about this.
This has the potential to actually be beneficial. Animal fat and other biofuel sources, while still being carbon based, are reusing carbon that’s already in the biosphere. Biofuels do not increase the carbon in the biosphere while fossil fuels do increase the carbon in the biosphere. Second potential benefit is finding a non-fossil-oil source for liquid fuel so that we aren’t dependent on a fuel supply that’s now beginning to decline in production volume.
The papers’ authors claim a “large amount of alligator fat” is produced by the “alligator meat processing industry” and it makes me wonder “what alligator meat processing industry”. You mean there is an industry of alligator livestock and slaughter? Really? Are there very many people eating alligator meat? Really? Okay, there is an industry of alligator leather for shoes and the like, but I just can’t imagine there’s very much actual amount of alligator meat and fat out there.
In other words, is there much chance of this making any significant difference in the world? The U.S. consumes 19 million barrels of fossil oil per day. The CNET report says 15 million pounds of alligator fat is disposed of in landfills annually by U.S. Industry. This doesn’t really add up, as 15 million pounds a year is a drop in the bucket compared to 19 million barrels a day. That 15 million pounds would convert to 1.25 million gallons of fuel, per year. A drop in the bucket. For comparison, the study points out that 700 million gallons of biodiesel were created from soybeans in 2008. So at its current consumption rate, alligator oil could serve just a small fraction of current demand. A drop in the bucket. As the researchers point out, though, alligator fat is currently thrown away and is well suited suitable chemically for biodiesel.
Maybe their goal is to learn more about processing animal fats into fuel, to build up the knowledge base. Think about the total pool of animal fats coming from the livestock industry, it’s a much larger quantity and more reasonable to render all animal fats into various secondary products like fuel. In fact there probably already is an industry of rendering animal fats into secondary products, don’t you think? Converting animal fats into fuel would be a diversion of that animal fat away from the current use into using it for fuel.
In other words, conversion of animal fats to fuel is the same argument we have about diverting food crops into fuel production. Is there capacity to grow enough biological material to create all the biology based products we need? (food, fuel, clothing, etc)
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