World Biofuels Focus on Animal Fats

By Bruce Ross, Ross Gordon Consultants SPRL

Each year the World Biofuels Markets conference provides an opportunity for biofuel industry players to rub shoulders and get a feel for the state of things. This year’s event was held in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on March 22-24. As in previous years, the National Renderers Association (NRA) both attended and provided a speaker for the event with the idea to ensure that biofuels from rendered products are showcased and that NRA has some visibility. This year, Al Rickard, Rothsay Biodiesel/Maple Leaf, made the journey to deliver a presentation.

The NRA’s presence has become more important as biodiesel derived from animal fats and used cooking oil is increasingly being traded, and particularly as the European Union (EU) market starts to open to these feedstocks from Canada and the United States due to changes in EU regulations.

The mood of this year’s conference – always optimistic, even under tough economic and regulatory conditions – was very positive. Mood music can be deceptive; better evidence of the health of the sector was that speakers and audiences talked more about what they are doing rather than what they might be doing five or 10 years down the line. Several speakers stressed that there is no point in being in business if it doesn’t make money. This may seem obvious, but in the past this conference was dominated by discussion of second, third, and even fourth generation biofuels. This year was different.

There was much less discussion of technical hurdles to overcome and more debate over other “softer” conditions to be met, for example, indirect land use change (ILUC) standards. The word jatropha was heard much less often. It was generally agreed that the industry still needs to win over public opinion to the overall benefits of biofuels in order that demand is there as biofuels come on-stream. The rendering industry is, of course, familiar with such public image challenges.

I am happy to report there were many references to biodiesel being produced from animal fats and used cooking oil. There was much support for the view that biofuels derived from residues (including animal fats and used cooking oil) would help the EU, in particular, to reach its biofuels consumption targets until such time as fuels from biomass and other sources come on-stream. Greenergy reported that seven percent of the United Kingdom’s biodiesel comes from tallow and 75 percent from used cooking oil. Why? Because these feedstocks have excellent greenhouse gas emissions savings values, no ILUC problems, and receive favorable treatment under renewable energy legislation. Greenergy sources all of its used cooking oil from the United States and is aiming to produce 100 percent of its biofuels from such products in the future. They believe that their recently developed traceability system will satisfy the most skeptical of critics. So, demand for feedstocks such as animal fats and used cooking oil should rise.

Unlike in previous years, the NRA’s presentation was at a conference session devoted to biofuels from forestry and industrial by-products, rather than on biofuels from waste – a small but significant change as the new title recognizes the value of the by-products of the rendering sector. So, even before Rickard got to the podium, there was a good feeling about biofuels from animal fats/used cooking oil.

In his presentation entitled “Rendered Products for Biofuel – Sustainability, Challenges, and Opportunities,” Rickard set out the good news story of the “original recyclers.” He underlined the advantages of biofuels from animal fats/used cooking oil in terms of fuel performance, sustainability, and cost and explained the views of North American producers on the products and processes involved. Rickard outlined the legislative situation in the United States and Canada and underlined the need for current incentives to stay in place.

Also speaking in the by-products session was Tyson Foods’ Robert Ames, who set out an alternative biofuels process that also uses animal fats and used cooking oil, renewable diesel. Other speakers discussed different aspects of the used cooking oil production chain. All in all there was considerably more attention to animal fats and used cooking oil than in the past.

There was also a lot of interest, in this session and others, in whether the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive would allow biofuels derived from residues to count double towards meeting the EU’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. This is a bit of a grey area as the EU authorities have set the ground rules, but it is for the member state authorities to apply them as they see fit. Some countries, like the Netherlands for example, have already declared they will ensure that animal fats feedstocks count double; others have yet to declare. We shall see.

There was the ritual argument between the European Biodiesel Board and whichever third country represen-tatives were around (in this instance Argentina and Malaysia) over whose subsidies for biodiesel were more trade distortive. Nobody mentioned the likely extension of the current EU countervailing duties on U.S. exports of biodiesel to the EU, where a decision is expected before this summer. But the consensus at the conference was that trade barriers stifle the development of biofuels.

April 2011 RENDER | back