Social Innovation: Turning Animal Fats into Next Generation Renewable Fuel

It turns out that with social innovation and the right refinery, we can turn animal fats into far better diesel and jet fuel than what is commonly distilled from crude oil! American companies, Tyson Foods and fuel maker, Syntroleum, have announced a joint venture called Dynamic Fuels, which produces next-generation renewable, synthetic fuels from animal fats, greases, and vegetable oils that will contribute to the U.S.’s energy independence and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dynamic Fuels produces this social innovation synthetic diesel from renewable resources such as animal fats or yellow grease (cooking oil from restaurants that is predominantly a vegetable oil).  It is called synthetic fuel because it is made from sources other than petroleum, yet after its refining process, those sources yield the same molecule yielded from traditional petroleum diesel processing. The difference is that synthetic fuel does not contain the impurities that give petroleum diesel its characteristic odour and colour.

Tyson provides the feedstock for the renewable diesel, which it sources from slaughterhouses across the States. This social innovation refining process is done at a $170 million plant they opened last year in Geismar, Louisiana. It takes roughly seven pounds of fat to make one gallon of fuel. Jeff Webster, Group Vice President, Tyson's Renewable Products Division, says, "We're very pleased with the progress at the plant and the quality of the fuel it's producing. This fuel offers the same benefits of synthetic fuels derived from coal or natural gas, including substantial performance and environmental advantages over petroleum-based fuels."

This social innovation fuel also has a lower freezing point than regular diesel, making it ideal for cold climates. Plus, Dynamic Fuel makes good jet fuel, too, because the animal fat doesn’t start out with the same impurities as fossil petroleum. In fact, the jet fuel has been certified for use by the Air Force.

A social innovation product like this reduces reliance on petroleum and is ideal for trucks and trains. The U.S. plant is producing some of the highest quality diesel fuel in the world, and best of all, it is renewable with a carbon footprint 75% below that of petroleum diesel. The Geismar plant could produce as much as 75 million gallons per year and American slaughterhouses generate roughly 10 billion pounds a year of inedible animal fats. However, this may not be enough ‘fat’ and may never amount to more than a drop of the 58 billion gallons of diesel the U.S. burns each year.

Photo Credit: Dynamic Fuels Website