Corn is beginning to seem more and more like the has-been-that-never-was of the biofuel feedstock scene. It is rapidly losing its place (if it ever really had one) as the pivotal element in the biofuel picture. Non-food plants like crambe and algae are front and center in the next wave of fuel production. There is even a place for animal carcasses and human remains! Are dead bodies— human or otherwise— the next big thing in heating?
The British town of Reepham, Norfolk has decided to heat many of its buildings by burning oil made from melted cow and pig carcasses. The strategy is described as "equal or lower in carbon footprint than natural gas". The replacement fuel now warming the children of this town is, as in normal with biofuels, partly mixed with ordinary fossil fuel. The biologically-sourced portion is made from used cooking oil and from tallow, which in turn is made by rendering down fatty remains from slaughtered livestock. Strictly speaking, tallow is from cattle and lard is from pigs, but industry cares more about things like melting point. The oil now being burned in Reepham's boilers may have started out originally as any sort of animal. People will raise livestock anyway in order to eat it. Thus it makes sense to use the waste products for energy.
If you can ignore the carbon footprint of making the animals and their fat in the first place - which is 80 per cent of tallow biofuel's overall footprint - the stuff becomes quite green, easily beating biofuel made from primary crops such as rapeseed oil or whatever. The gas, transport fuel and electricity used in rendering, moving and processing afterwards is comparatively insignificant.
Things get more eerie. A Swedish town announced last month that it will use cremated bodies to provide heat. If you’re dead and worried about the carbon emissions created from your cremation, relax. The Swedish town of Halmstad has a solution. After an environmental review showed that the town’s crematorium was pumping too much smoke into the air, the facility’s director decided to re-use heat from the cremations to warm up the crematorium’s buildings. Not only will it eliminate the facility's own heating bill, but it will also allow the crematorium to save money on cooling the smoke before it is released into the environment.
When a body is cremated, toxic materials are released from the corpse. For example, fillings in the teeth, when heated to high temperatures, release mercury. In order to filter out the toxic materials before they are released into the air, the crematorium must cool the smoke from around 1,000C to 150C. But, with the heat now directed into the public heating system, the smoke will already be much closer to 150C and the crematorium will spend less on materials, including water, to cool it down.
Can this be a viable solution for disposing of animal carcasses used in human consumption? Think about the millions of chicken, ducks, fish, pigs, cows, sheep and all assorted kind of animals raised of captured for human consumption and you'll pretty soon start thinking that it is not a bad idea after all.