It may come as a surprise to learn that the meat industry contributes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector. It's true, and you can find the details in a 2006 United Nations report entitled "Livestock's Long Shadow."
This is not only because cows emit methane, which is a global warming gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, but because of all the land use changes, the production of animal feed, the shipment of all that meat around the world, and other factors.
Given that reality, I found intriguing the idea that the meat industry can somehow "give back" with a product that reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Green Earth Technologies' new automotive motor oil is "made with American-grown renewable animal fats....It takes three barrels of crude oil to make one barrel of motor oil, but it only takes one barrel of animal fat to produce one barrel of G-Oil," the company says.
I talked to Dr. Mat Zuckerman, GET's newly named president, about how it all works, and the rest of this story may not be for the squeamish. "We buy the fat from the rendering industry [which sells waste meat products as a base material for a wide variety of products], and we consider it a renewable resource that is also fully biodegradable," he said. "Motor oil is a base material plus additives, and by adjusting the additives you make products for different automotive applications. In this case we're using nanotechnology to substitute fats for petroleum distillates to make the base."
Here's the technical part: The saturated fats in animal products have molecular single-bond carbon chains that are similar to that of standard petroleum-based oils. "If you look at other bio-based fuels -- biodiesel, ethanol -- none are scaled to the raw material," Zuckerman said. "But we could supply the entire U.S. oil needs with the fat from 50,000 beef cattle a day that are already being killed in slaughterhouses." Each cow could produce 110 quarts of oil, he said.
It shouldn't be hard to find raw material. Zuckerman says that 50,000 cows are killed daily within 150 miles of where G-Oil is produced in the panhandle of Oklahoma. It's the fifth largest red meat slaughter area in the world.
G-Oil actually got written into a recent episode of CSI: NY. The plot revolved around the idea that a bio-based oil would attract flies, which in actual fact G-Oil does not do. I asked publicist Courtney Jacobs if, since the product is biodegradable, you could just pour it on the compost pile when it's lubricating life is over. "Let's put it this way," she said. "If a deer dies on your lawn it's going to create a brown spot for about a year, but then the grass will come back greener than ever. It won't be environmentally harmful, but it's still probably better to take it to a recycling center with other oils."
Dr. Mat Zuckerman: 50,000 cows for the whole U.S. oil supply.
The two-cycle version of the oil, used for lawnmowers and other small engines, has been on the market since July and is available at Home Depot. The automotive motor oil, which should be priced about $1 a quart above standard motor oil (but less than synthetics) is likely to be available at retailers soon.
GET is not the only company making this type of petroleum-mimicking motor fuels. LS9, based in San Carlos, California, is working on a process to make hydrocarbons from fatty acids to produce crude oil that could be refined into gasoline. Another company, Amyris Biotechnologies, also based in California, uses plant materials to make microbes that can produce what Technology Review calls "designer fuels."
From Popular Mechanics: Amyris Renewable Diesel, 2008 Breakthrough Award Winner (w/ Video)
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