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Biofuel Misinformation Will Cost Meat Farmers

Biofuel Misinformation Will Cost Meat Farmers

A new process for making biodiesel from tallow could allow meat companies to offset emissions taxes and avoid those costs being passed on to farmers. However, misinformation about tallow-based fuel may halt progress of the Biofuel Bill currently being considered by a Parliamentary select committee, and stymie investment in the process.

The Auckland by-product R & D company Flo-Dry Engineering Ltd has developed a novel system that costs less and has a higher quality output than conventional plants. Flo-Dry’s managing director Tissa Fernando says that the company has spent the past five years working with specialists from the Universities of Auckland and Canterbury to develop the process and build a pilot plant. The quality of its output meets the specifications for biodiesel set by the Ministry for Economic Development.

“Conventional processing methods require a much higher quality tallow in order to meet the MED’s minimum ester content and cold-flow standards,” says Fernando.

“Our continuous technique can cope with a free fatty acid content of up to 4% in the raw material, and the final product is ideal for blending with mineral diesel.”

News of the new technology comes at an opportune time for meat companies as they get to grips with looming carbon taxes. In the next few years it is almost certain that they will be charged for the emissions from any fossil fuels used for processing, packaging, storage and transport of meat and by-products, and these costs will undoubtedly be passed on to farmers by way of lower schedule prices.

However, Fernando points out that having tallow from their rendering departments available for conversion into biodiesel is of great benefit to meat companies.

“Tallow is a renewable resource that is naturally very low in sulphur, and greenhouse gas emissions from tallow-based biodiesel are only 25% of extra-low sulphur mineral diesel,” he says.

“By converting tallow to biodiesel, companies can earn a premium over normal tallow prices as well as carbon credits of at least double the value of any emissions taxes they might face.”

However, the potential of the new technology to offset meat industry carbon taxes could go up in smoke if the Biofuel Bill, currently being considered by a Parliamentary Select Committee, does not go ahead. A key measure in the draft Bill would require a very small but increasing percentage of biofuels to be incorporated into transport fuels. The immediate benefit would be to stimulate development of alternative renewable energy feedstocks and processing systems, and begin to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fossil fuels for transport.


Unfortunately, says Fernando, some information being put before the Select Committee is out of date.

“It is a common misconception that high quality biodiesel is hard to produce from inedible tallow and that it has flow problems at low temperatures. This is simply not true, particularly with our new processing system,” he says.

“There is also some misinformation about the additional cost that a 5% biodiesel blend would add to diesel prices. Oil companies have predicted an increase of between 6c and 7c per litre but with NZ tallow at $900/tonne, biodiesel made from it would not raise pump prices. Even if tallow rose to $1200/tonne it would not raise current prices by more than 2.2c, and once the price of mineral diesel goes above $1.90 per litre that increase will disappear.”

New Zealand meat companies produce about 150,000 tonnes of tallow each year. Most of it is exported, but that could change rapidly if biodiesel became a more attractive option and the result would benefit meat companies, farmers and the whole country. In fact, if all available inedible tallow were converted to biodiesel that would go more than half way towards meeting the Bill’s 2012 biofuel sales target.

Flo-Dry now has a plant ready to produce 8000 tonnes of biodiesel per year – half of the mandatory requirement for the initial biofuel sales target. The company has also secured an appropriately zoned site for a 40,000 tonne/year plant and a supply of tallow by arrangement with a rendering company and investors. The site is available from September and a new plant could be producing tallow based biodiesel from December – if the Bill passes.

“Meat companies are sitting on a small goldmine. Biodiesel from tallow is the industry’s one opportunity to become ‘green’ and counter the idea that it is a major source of greenhouse gases,” says Fernando.

“But meat companies need the legislation place so that they can justify investing in new technology. It will happen only if the Biofuel Bill is passed and oil companies are required to sell biofuel blends.”


Notes to editor:

Rendering is the boiling down of waste scraps of meat, fat, bone and other animal tissues at meat processing plants to produce meat meal and tallow.

Tallow is the fat fraction. It is produced in two main grades – edible grade for human consumption as cooking fat or in baked products, and inedible grade that is made into soap, candles and waxes. New Zealand rendering systems are generally advanced and well managed, and consequently NZ tallows command a premium on world markets.

Biodiesel is formed when tallow (triglycerides) is heated in the presence of methanol and an alkaline catalyst to produce methyl esters (biodiesel) and glycerol. Since the 1940s, batch processing (one quantity of raw material at a time) has been used, with separation of biodiesel from glycerol being the final part of the process.

Reactive Distillation is a continuous process in which the chemical reactions and product separations occur simultaneously in the one unit. This process is used in the system developed by Flo-Dry Engineering Ltd to convert tallow and other suitable feedstocks into high quality biodiesel. It is unique (patent applied for). Its advantages are:

• Consistent product quality.
• High chemical purity
• Low capital and operating costs
• Quick to construct
• High productivity

Flo-Dry Engineering Ltd is a privately owned engineering company with 25 years’ domestic and international experience in designing and building low energy-consuming rendering plants to produce premium grade tallow and meat and bone meal. The company has also developed energy efficient sludge drying plants for municipal and food waste products. Over the last five years, Flo-Dry has in collaboration with the University of Canterbury and the University of Auckland, researched methods of converting tallow to biodiesel.

Tissa Fernando, managing director of Flo-Dry Engineering Ltd, worked as a research engineer at the Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand (MIRINZ) for many years and was responsible for the development of the MIRINZ low temperature rendering system. He was also, through MIRINZ, involved with the Liquid Fuels Trust Board in the 1970s. In addition, he is a part owner of two rendering plants producing tallow, and has actively promoted R & D into added-value products from tallow.

Other benefits of biodiesel
Biodiesel has a number of other advantages over ordinary diesel:

• Readily broken down by bacteria. Even small amounts of biodiesel mixed with diesel will speed up the breakdown of fuel spills.
• Much higher flash (ignition) point than mineral diesel, making it safer to transport.
• Lower emissions, reduced ozone forming potential, almost no sulphur, and reduced production of carcinogens.
• Better engine lubricating properties resulting in reduced engine noise


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