Experts warn that using pig fat as green aviation fuel will harm the environment

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PIG. Image source: GETTY IMAGES

A new study has raised concerns about the use of animal fat from deceased pigs, cattle, and chickens as a source for producing greener jet fuel.

While the intention behind using animal fat as an alternative feedstock is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate carbon emissions, the study suggests that this approach may have unintended consequences and could ultimately have a negative impact on the environment.

The study highlights that the production and use of jet fuel derived from animal fat can result in higher greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional fossil fuel-based jet fuel.

The reasons for this include the carbon emissions associated with livestock farming, the processing of animal fat into fuel, and the overall lifecycle impact of using animal-based feedstocks.

These findings emphasize the need for comprehensive assessments of the environmental impact of alternative fuel sources, taking into account the entire supply chain and lifecycle analysis.

While the idea of using animal fat as a sustainable feedstock for jet fuel may initially seem promising, it is crucial to evaluate the net environmental benefits and potential drawbacks associated with such approaches.

Further research and development are necessary to identify more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives for aviation fuels, considering both feedstock sources and production processes.

It remains essential to strike a balance between reducing carbon emissions and ensuring that alternative fuel solutions do not inadvertently cause further harm to the environment.

It is true that animal fats are often considered waste and using them as a feedstock for aviation fuel can potentially result in a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional fossil-based fuels.

The demand for fuel derived from animal by-products is expected to increase significantly, with airlines taking the lead in adopting these greener alternatives.

However, there are concerns among experts about potential consequences.

One of the main concerns is the scarcity of animal fats. As demand for this feedstock grows, there is a risk that other industries may turn to alternative sources, such as palm oil, to meet their needs.

Palm oil production has been associated with significant carbon emissions and deforestation, which can have adverse environmental impacts.

Airlines are facing mounting pressure to address their substantial carbon emissions, which primarily come from burning fossil-based kerosene in aircraft engines.

This has led to a push for more sustainable aviation fuel options.

While animal fat-based fuels may offer a lower carbon footprint, it is important to carefully assess the overall sustainability and potential unintended consequences of utilizing these feedstocks.

Balancing the need to reduce carbon emissions in the aviation sector with the broader environmental impacts of alternative feedstocks remains a challenge.

Continued research and innovation in developing sustainable aviation fuels are crucial to ensure that environmental concerns are adequately addressed while achieving carbon reduction targets in the aviation industry.

However, according to a study conducted by Transport & Environment, a clean transportation campaign group based in Brussels, there are simply not enough animals slaughtered each year to meet airlines’ expanding demand for animal fats.

“There isn’t an infinite supply of animals or animal fat,” stated Transport & Environment’s Matt Finch.

Therefore, when a substantial additional demand source is introduced, such as aviation in this instance, the industries currently reliant on animal fat will be compelled to seek alternative solutions.

Palm oil emerges as one such alternative. Consequently, the transportation of palm oil through European systems will indirectly witness an upsurge due to the aviation industry’s contribution.

It is important to note, however, that the amplified utilization of palm oil is linked to heightened emissions, primarily stemming from the clearance of older forests, which serve as significant carbon stores, to facilitate the establishment of new plantations.

Palm oil is made from these nuts, and if animal fats are used in aviation, other firms may use more of this commodity. Image source: GETTY IMAGES

Many people may be surprised to learn that animal fats are being used as fuel. Tallow and lard have been widely used in the making of candles, soaps, and cosmetics throughout history.

However, there has been a major increase in the usage of biodiesel made from animal waste and spent cooking oils in the last two decades or more, not only in the UK but also in other areas of the world.

According to current studies, the production and use of fuel obtained from killed animals in Europe has increased fortyfold since 2006.

This represents a significant shift in the energy environment, as the use of animal fats as a sustainable source for biodiesel gains traction and expands its reach.

A significant portion of animal fats, particularly in the form of biodiesel, is currently utilized in cars and trucks, classified as a sustainable fuel due to its lower carbon footprint.

In line with efforts to promote greener aviation, both the UK and EU governments are actively seeking to increase the usage of such waste materials to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

To achieve this objective, challenging mandates are being implemented, requiring airlines to incorporate a larger proportion of SAF in their fuel tanks.

By 2030, the UK aims to have 10% SAF content, while the EU targets 6%. However, observers have noted that these ambitious plans may exert pressure on the existing market for animal waste.

The increased demand from the aviation sector, coupled with the growing demand from other industries, might strain the availability and pricing of animal waste as a raw material for biodiesel production.

As a result, alternative solutions or sources may need to be explored to meet the increasing demand for sustainable aviation fuel while ensuring the sustainability of the animal waste market.

Indeed, there are notable differences in approach between the UK and EU regarding the utilization of animal fats in fuel.

The UK is expected to impose limitations on the usage of higher-quality tallow in fuel production.

On the other hand, in Europe, there will be incentives to promote the use of such materials, as they have demonstrated greater greenhouse gas reduction potential.

As demand for animal fats increases due to the rising interest in sustainable aviation fuel and other applications, it is likely that prices will also rise.

This price increase may act as a catalyst for exports from the UK, as it seeks to meet the growing demand from other markets.

However, this shift in trade patterns can have consequences, including potential impacts on domestic supply, market dynamics, and even environmental considerations related to transportation and logistics.

Therefore, as the demand for animal fats grows and prices increase, careful consideration and monitoring of the consequences and trade-offs involved will be essential to ensure the sustainability and balance of the market.

Airlines are under pressure to cut emissions from the usage of fossil fuels. Image source: GETTY IMAGES

How many dead pigs are required to power a plane?

According to Transport & Environment, if all the fuel used for a flight from Paris to New York came from animal sources, it would require fat from approximately 8,800 deceased pigs.

However, considering the UK’s likely restrictions on animal products and used cooking oils, flights that refuel within Britain are expected to contain only small quantities of animal-derived material in their engines.

In the EU, airlines are targeted to achieve a 6% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) content by 2030, with 1.2% derived from e-kerosene.

Assuming the remaining 4.8% of SAF is solely obtained from animal fat, it would require around 400 pigs per transatlantic flight.

These numbers provide a perspective on the potential scale of animal-derived fuel usage.

However, it’s important to note that these figures are estimates based on specific assumptions, and the actual quantities and sources may vary depending on various factors, including regulatory frameworks, market dynamics, and technological advancements in sustainable fuel production.

One of the industries that might need to seek alternative ingredients if aviation increasingly utilizes animal fat is the pet food manufacturing sector.

Currently, pet food manufacturers rely on a significant amount of high-quality animal by-products to meet the nutritional needs of the UK’s 38 million pets.

These animal by-products are considered valuable ingredients and play a crucial role in the production of pet food.

Nicole Paley, the deputy chief executive of UK Pet Food, the manufacturers’ trade association, highlights the importance of these ingredients and their sustainability in the pet food industry.

They are already being utilized in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Given the potential diversion of animal by-products to meet the growing demand for sustainable aviation fuel, the pet food industry may face challenges in sourcing alternative ingredients that provide the same nutritional value.

It underscores the need to carefully consider the potential consequences and trade-offs across various sectors as the demand for animal fats changes.

Pet food makers rely significantly on animal byproducts. image source: GETTY IMAGES

Indeed, diverting these valuable ingredients from the pet food industry to biofuels can create a new challenge by putting it in direct competition with the aviation sector.

Given the financial resources and demands of the aviation industry, it would be difficult for the pet food industry to compete.

While the EU is progressing further in incorporating animal fats into aviation fuel, the UK is taking a cautious approach.

The UK government is currently consulting on potential restrictions regarding the types of animal fats that can be used in jet fuel.

They are considering implementing a ban or strict limitations on the use of both animal fats and used cooking oil in the aviation sector.

The government’s concerns about unintended consequences and the impact on industries like pet food are driving this deliberation.

This cautious approach reflects the need to carefully balance the demands of different sectors, environmental considerations, and potential impacts on supply chains and markets.

The government aims to strike a balance between promoting sustainable aviation fuel and ensuring the stability and sustainability of other industries that rely on animal fats as valuable ingredients.

Many in the biofuel business are concerned that the proposed modifications may result in the redirection of animal fats from one mode of transportation to another.

“If you make a big incentive for these lipids, animal fats, and used cooking oils to be used in aviation, it will inevitably take it away from other things,” said Dickon Posnett of Argent Energy, a waste-based biodiesel producer in the UK and Europe.

“So, if you want to increase aviation sustainability at the expense of truck sustainability, go ahead and do it.” But that is a matter for the government to decide.”

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