What do beef tallow and manure have in common with t-shirts and pine needles? Turns out you can make high-quality, low-carbon transportation fuel with all of them. A growing number of biofuel producers are teaming up with farms, meatpackers and waste management companies to tap gassy waste to meet new demand for renewable jet fuel and diesel for vehicles.
Lots of different agricultural feedstocks – from sugarcane to sweet potatoes — can be used in renewable fuel. But there's a bonus if you use organic waste. Methane, a super potent greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere as manure and food decompose. And that gas and that waste are increasingly a liability for farmers.
According to Steve Kaffka, director of the California Biomass Collaborative at the University of California, Davis, anaerobic digesters, which convert the waste into biogas and power, can be a good way for large farms to minimize their waste and create a value-added product from it at the same time.
Meanwhile, the transportation industry is starting to feel the heat to fill up on renewable fuels. Airlines aren't yet required to shrink their carbon footprints, but the Environmental Protection Agency is currently seeking public input on emissions standards that could one day apply to airlines operating in the U.S. The EPA says domestic aircraft account for 11 percent of the US transportation industry's greenhouse gas emissions, and that these emissions contribute to air pollution in the atmosphere and endanger public health.
"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the fuel that powers our transportation is a critical part of addressing climate change. When fuel can be made out of waste into a value-added product, there can be big benefits," says an agency spokesperson.