Undergraduate Class Tackles Rendering Challenges

By Annel K. Greene, PhD, Center Director
Clemson University Animal Co-Products Research and Education Center

From engineering to agriculture, a whole new generation of students from multiple disciplines is learning about rendering as part of the educational mission of the Clemson University Animal Co-Products Research and Education Center (ACREC).

During the spring 2011 semester, professor and ACREC Center Director Dr. Annel Greene co-instructed an animal and veterinary science class with Dr. Michelle “Mickey” Hall and Dr. Susan Duckett. Taught annually, the course, titled “Animal Products,” is designed as an overview of the various value-added products generated from animal production. The course details the unique chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of the animal products as well as the processing that allows these commodities to be safely and conveniently utilized. The lecture and laboratory presentations are designed to introduce students to the structure, composition, nutritive value, functional properties, and development of further processed animal products. Additional concepts covered include microbiology, food safety, hazard analysis and critical control point, inspection/grading, and co-products.

Hall managed the course and taught the students about poultry meat and egg products while Duckett covered beef and pork products. Greene contributed the dairy foods and rendering portions of the course. This year, 62 undergraduate students were enrolled in the course and with the exception of two sophomores, they were all juniors and seniors majoring in animal and veterinary sciences. Most of the students in the class are seeking to be veterinary medical students.

Literally taking a page from “the original recyclers,” Greene gathered extra copies of Render magazine from the International Poultry Expo held earlier this year in Atlanta, GA, and recycled them to her 413 animal and veterinary science undergraduate students as educational materials on rendering. In addition, she assigned required reading of six chapters in the industry’s book, Essential Rendering, available online through the National Renderers Association Web site. Greene emphasized rendering processing procedures, industry size, and how rendering is essential to the continued prosperity and health of the food animal industry as well as society and the environment. She discussed the difficulties facing the rendering industry as well as the nuisances that would face society if there was no rendering industry.

After introducing the students to an overview of rendering, Greene challenged them to tackle real world rendering industry situations. They were assigned a project in which they were to find fresh new solutions and develop step-by-step methods to solve one of three rendering challenges: (1) find a solution to the grease theft problem; (2) find new product uses for tallow; or (3) find new product uses for meat and bone meal (MBM). The majority of the students chose to work on the grease theft problem.

The students greatly enjoyed the challenge and many of them devised very interesting and truly creative approaches to these rendering situations. Some of the student ideas were somewhat impractical and/or would be too costly to implement, but many of the ideas have potential merit.

Whereas some students concentrated on improving only one portion of the grease container design, Kenneth Kyle, a senior focusing on animal agribusiness, designed an entire grease container system using several features to deter thieves. He proposed a “skeletonized” outer shell that would prevent drilling or cutting into a container. Kyle studied the strengths and weights for using different gauges of steel and determined how much additional weight his design would add to the typical grease container. If thieves spent a tremendous amount of time and effort to get through his reinforced outer layer, his design also included other features such as a unique internal baffle system that would limit thieves to accessing only up to 25 gallons of the container’s load rather than the entire contents. Kyle also recommended a high-tech locking system and a different way in which grease would be deposited into the container.

Seniors Grace Vahey and Simone Kennedy each suggested internal baffling systems that would cause grease thieves considerable work with little reward from grease containers. Vaughn “Buck” Stevenson, a junior, also submitted a design in which determined thieves would spend substantial time trying to get to the grease with little chance for success. He proposed filling a double-walled grease container with a clever method of preventing drill bits or saws from penetrating.

Tyler Halbert, a junior, proposed to slow thieves with an outer cage and a box and vent system whereas juniors Jessica Howle and Lindsay Mumma, and senior Leslie Hash all designed grease theft deterrent systems based on the strength of titanium.

Several of the students created “self-defending” grease containers that were armed against thieves. Kelly Sanders, a junior who spent part of the semester with her arm in a cast due to a clash with a mechanical bull, designed a double-walled grease container with an internal screen to deter thieves. Sanders’ invention is simple yet offers some thought-provoking aspects. In her design, if the outer shell of the container was breached, the thief would mistakenly siphon a useless imitation grease product that would poison their stolen supplies. The design of her tank would prevent thieves from easily accessing the rightful owner’s grease.

Jessica Comolli, a senior concentrating in pre-veterinary medicine studies, designed an intricate pressurized grease container system that would contaminate the grease with a feed-safe ingredient that would poison biodiesel catalysts if a thief tried to access the container. Megan O’Connor, a senior, proposed a lined system that would release a substance into the grease to prevent biodiesel catalysis, but not be toxic to animal feeds or other rendered animal fat uses.

Several students focused on improving the lid system for grease containers. Jennifer Awbrey, a senior, designed a grease container with an improved lid hinge system to prevent thieves from prying it open. Senior Amber Dameron conceived an interesting sloped lid that would prevent easy access to the grease by thieves who use vacuum hoses. Junior Victoria DeFoe-White and seniors Erin Peters and Jack Tully each proposed placing an internal grate below the lid to stop easy access to the grease from vacuum hoses. Senior Jillian Turner designed a sliding lid in addition to the internal grate.

Amanda DiMascio, a senior, Brent Phelan, a junior, and Kelsey Rand, a senior, applied different and unique uses for magnets in helping to deter grease thieves. The remainder of the students who worked on the grease theft challenge proposed to move the grease containers into enclosed outer buildings, underground compartments, or inside the restaurants.

For the second challenge of finding new uses for tallow, Brooke Parks, a junior, proposed use of glycerin in a type of wood floor finish. Parks investigated the chemistry of this process and reports that this product could utilize large quantities of residual glycerin that may be of benefit to biodiesel producers. Senior Andrea Sassard studied the chemistry of using tallow to make polyurethanes. She outlined each step in the chemical process and described how animal-based fatty acids could be used to make the polyol in a manner similar to current plant-based polyol processing. Senior Angela Smith chose to study use of glycerol as an antifreeze product.

For the third challenge related to new uses for MBM, Garrett Swann, a senior, proposed using MBM as a source of phosphorus for creating fire ignition systems. Junior Makenzie Wilder studied use of MBM in the cleanup of oil spills by promoting growth of Pseudomonas bacteria for degrading petroleum.

Student grades were based on their ability to think through the problem and consider obstacles to success. Some of the proposed ideas were only partially developed but many of the ideas indicated creativity and thorough consideration of the obstacles and challenges facing the rendering industry.

Greene prepared a booklet of the students’ reports and submitted them to the ACREC Research Committee and Governing Board for review and consideration. Some of the ideas unfortunately are not practical while many of the ideas need further development. The end-all solution to these rendering challenges may or may not come from these student ideas; however, the discoveries are creative and could generate new applications useful for the rendering industry. If so, it certainly would be a career changing experience for one or more of these students if their idea(s) resulted in a patentable and/or marketable end product. Overall, the goal of the assignment was achieved: Greene challenged the students to problem solve while learning more about the rendering industry and they successfully did so.

The students enjoyed this opportunity to study a real world situation and were enthusiastic in their ideas. This definitely was the most popular assignment Greene has given students in recent years. The students expressed genuine interest in learning more about the rendering industry that, even as animal and veterinary science majors, they had not previously studied in-depth. Several students asked if internships could be arranged to work for a semester in the rendering industry. If you would be interested in hosting an internship, please contact Greene at agreene@clemson.edu.

With each opportunity to educate students, whether in engineering, animal science, or other disciplines, ACREC faculty are teaching the facts about the rendering industry and helping to create the next generation of leaders who could help shape the future of rendering.

ACREC Solutions – June 2011 RENDER | back