Although alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are most-commonly produced from sources such as corn and soybeans, many companies and researchers are investigating alternative ingredients. One source being explored is chicken fat. Currently, only a small portion of available biodiesel is made from the fat, but this amount may increase in the near future as meat suppliers like Tyson, Perdue Farms, and Smithfield Foods create renewable fuel divisions.
In November 2006, Tyson announced that its renewable energy division would soon be operational. Tyson Vice President Jeff Webster estimates that the company annually produces about 2.3 billion pounds of chicken fat, which would translate into 300 million gallons of biodiesel. Tyson is the biggest producer of leftover fat from chicken, cattle, and hogs.
Vernon Eidman, an economics professor at the University of Minnesota, says that the United States will produce 1 billion gallons of biodiesel within the next five years, and half of that will be produced from animal fat. Using fat as a source for biodiesel is attractive because it is less expensive than soybean oil. However, distribution of biodiesel made from animal fat may be limited because the fuel may thicken when used in colder, northern areas.
“Having a massive new source of fuel stock is a welcome development for the biodiesel industry,” said National Biodiesel Board spokesperson Amber Thurlo Pearson. “More biodiesel in the marketplace could help make biodiesel’s cost even more competitive with diesel fuel.”
Another alternative fuel source being explored is peat. Researchers at the University of Detroit Mercy and Wayne State University of Metro Detroit are developing “pethanol,” which would be created through the use of synthetic enzymes and the process of fermentation. Pethanol could be used to power small, fuel-cell powered vehicles such as golf carts or riding lawn mowers.
“Corn’s biggest problem is that you only get one crop a year,” said John Shewchun, an adjunct chemistry and engineering professor at Wayne State. “Peat is dirt cheap (to harvest), and with it you’ve got something that is easily replenished.”