Fish Food, Now Fish FUEL!

A solution to the energy crisis: NOT efficiency, NOT elimination of subsidies, NOT internalizing externatilities. No, no. The latest solution to the energy crisis to is turn pig fat into diesel. The article was published today at the BBC:

American oil company ConocoPhillips and Tyson Foods, the world's biggest meat producer, have announced that they will produce diesel from pork fat.

Pigs, as discussed in the Save the Oceans, Eat Like a Pig post consume about 25% of all fishmeal produced or about 7.5 million tonnes of fish. Essentially, the corporate world's greatest new idea is to turn fish into pigs then to turn pigs into fat and then burn the fat in our gas guzzling, oil-dependent, and highly mobile society. Unfortunately, the concept as fish as fuel is hardly new. Earlier this year, a team of scientists and engineers developed biofuels from dead chickens, hogs, cattle and fish for use by commercial airliners and fighter jets. Also, in Alaska, plants have long burned fish oil as fuel. Not only do the oceans have to contend against fish eaters and fishmeal eaters, but also against fuel users now, too.


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This scenario will only spell increased peril for the oceans if there's an increased demand for pig fat. If we're just talking about scientists learning how to render pig fat (that would otherwise be discarded or used in cosmetics and pet food) into diesel fuel, I don't see this as a problem. Do you? Yeah, if the demand for pig fat managed to support the pork industry in the event that the market for pork (meat) collapsed, then I'd be concerned. Or if this scheme somehow resulted in increased harvests of fish, that'd be a problem. But if we're just talking about using the existing byproduct to produce a cleaner-burning (and "home grown") fuel, what's the problem?

When did it become suitable to slaughter animals to fill our gas tanks? I do not understand why we have to move three or more levels up the food chain in order to fuel cars when alternatives at lower levels (bio-ethanol, etc.) are available. In regards to the previous comment, even if the pig fat was a byproduct, the only reason there is extra fat on the pig is because of the fish it was fed in the first place. There needs to be some regulation on what is considered a "solution".

Yes, the pig fat exists in large part because of the fishmeal that was made from fish to feed the pigs. But is it not sensible to use the byproducts of pig farming for something other than pet food and cosmetics? Is it worse to make diesel from pig fat than it is to make cat chow or lipstick? Only if it results in more fishing. Otherwise, what's wrong with an energy source that burns cleaner and doesn't involve buying oil from countries with whom we'd rather not do business?
And we don't need to treat this as an either/or situation--either we demand more fuel-efficient engines OR we make fuel from animals--because obviously we can do both.
And we can also use biofuels derived from things like corn and sugarcane, too. We don't have to just pick one idea and ban all the others.

Right now, if I had a machine in which I could toss the carrot peelings, egg shells, used dental floss, and other byproducts of my day-to-day lifestyle, and that machine could burn that stuff to yield electricity for my kitchen and leave some compost for my garden, that'd be great. It wouldn't mean that I'd eat eat more carrots and eggs and floss any more than I normally do. Nor would it absolve me of my responsibility to use less energy elsewhere, drive less, think about what species I eat, and so on.

It used to be suitable to slaughter animals to fill our gas...lamps. Recall the whaling of the 19th century that turned every remote outpost (such as the Galapagos) into a center for processing and reduced blue whales to 1% of their previous level of abundance. I would have found that process morally repugnant and I certainly find the idea of running our cars on pigs morally repugnant, too. Tinisoli has a point about it being a proper use of 'waste' but it certainly is NO solution to the energy crisis (which is a crisis beyond running out of oil or our oil dependence). Furthermore, using pigs as fuels endorses a system of gluttony in the meat industry, which overproduces meat due to government subsidies, cheap input prices, and oligopsony power by processors. Why is there so much extra wasted pig fat anyway? And should we now create an outlet and an infrastructure for it (also likely to be heavily subsized under the auspice of 'green energy') to reward this excess, all at the expense of the lives of millions of animals? There are swines in this story, but they aren't the pigs...

It seems the word 'solution' is what's raising your ire. It's good to keep in mind that it was the BBC used this word, not necessarily the folks who are looking to turn their pig fat into fuel. I don't think anyone regards the idea of using pig fat as fuel to be a solution to anything. But it's not necessarily a terrible idea. We tend to see words like "solution" and "save" and other bold words in environmental stories a lot, and then when you look inside you realize the headline was exaggerating the situation a bit.

I once wrote an article for the SF Chronicle about loggerhead turtles, satellite tags, and longline swordfishing, based on my experience as a NMFS observer on a California-based longliner. The paper's editor used 'Letting endangered sea turtles off the hook' as a title (and also 'at loggerheads' as a heading) because it was a nice pun, not because the science I discussed promised to let sea turtles off the hook in any literal way. The news media just loves a pun.

Puns can be clever, cheesy, or annoying, but 'solution' was simply misused. As for what is raising my ire, it is really the fact that 1) in a factory setting, we feed fish to pigs rather than eat the fish ourselves (or leave them in the ocean) 2) these pigs are most often bought by gigantic corporations that undercut family farms and any system of local food production 3) they are slaughtered, often inhumanely and not hygienically 4) and then adulterated by fast food companies and other food processors with chemicals, additives, trans fats, etc. to be sold to an ever fatter human population. As if that wasn't bad enough, because we have a GLUT of animal fat (and human fat) we now have to worry about at least two monstrous corporations being further subsidized by the U.S. government to produced a 'solution' to the global energy crisis (never mind efficiency or public transportation...ride a pig!). If we're talking about wanting to use excess fat to DO or MOVE something...let's start with the largest fat biomass of all: Americans.

Agreed. We definitely are a nation of fatsos. Have you heard that food companies are now working on products that will be so indigestible to our systems that we'll basically just swallow things and they'll just pass right through us? Imagine being able to eat a Big Mac without gaining any weight! YAY!!

It's like FDA-approved bulimia. These are dark days.

I think people differ greatly on this issue. For example, if it were completely unidentifiable as my own, I would have no problem with a picture of my naked ass being posted on the Internet. Others would be absolutely horrified by the prospect.

I think people differ greatly on this issue. For example, if it were completely unidentifiable as my own, I would have no problem with a picture of my naked ass being posted on the Internet. Others would be absolutely horrified by the prospect.

I think people differ greatly on this issue. For example, if it were completely unidentifiable as my own, I would have no problem with a picture of my naked ass being posted on the Internet. Others would be absolutely horrified by the prospect.