by Jesse R. Bussard
Animal by-products are being used to power trains, and create eco-friendly bioplastics and biofuels.
In December of last year, a group of investors are planning to build 60-million-gallon-per-year biodiesel fuel plant in Sioux City, SD. The renewable fuel would not be made from soybeans, but from the tallow byproduct of the beef processing done at the adjacent Beef Products Inc. plant. BPI, the world’s largest supplier of lean boneless beef, and co-founder Eldon Roth are among investors in the project, which would create 30 to 40 new jobs.
In 2010, Amtrak unveiled the nation’s first biodiesel train, with a surprise twist — the fuel to run the train is derived from beef byproducts. The Heartland Flyer train was set to conduct its biofuel trial run for a year between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. Previous tests with a stationary locomotive engine showed that the B20 biodiesel blend — 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent diesel — cut back on hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide each by 10 percent. It also reduced particulates by 15 percent and sulfates by 20 percent.
And most recently, researchers at Clemson University used meat and bone meal as the raw material in a new kind of plastic, rather than using petroleum-based chemicals. They mixed it with ultra-high-molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), a tough plastic used in products from snowboards to replacement joints. The resulting bioplastic was almost as durable as normal UHMWPE, plus it’s partially biodegradable.
The American meat industry still produces about 9 billion pounds of protein meal every year, most of which is meat and bone meal. Bone meal by itself is turned into garden fertilizer, but without widespread use for meat and bone meal, it’s dumped into special landfills, according to ACS. It is treated with chemicals to prevent the spread of prions associated with BSE. Turning it into plastic would divert that material from landfills. It’s safe because the plastic-making process de-activates the infectious agents that would spread BSE.
This is not the first effort at using meat and bone meal as a renewable resource. In the U.K., where millions of cattle and sheep were slaughtered in the past decade because of BSE and foot-and-mouth disease, meat and bone meal is used to generate electricity.
Though none of these uses of animal by-products is exactly vegan-friendly, they are not dependent on fossil fuel, and the options are perhaps less awful than throwing all of this offal into landfills, which is what happens to most meat and bone meal, since it has been banned as livestock feed.