Efforts to achieve "greener" air travel have led to a surprising source for jet fuel: animal fats. This often-wasted byproduct from livestock like pigs, cattle, and chickens, is now being eyed as a resource to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation.
However, a new study from environmental group Transport & Environment (T&E) warns that this seemingly sustainable solution may actually pose new risks to the planet. Air travel has long been under the spotlight for its significant contribution to carbon emissions.
To combat this, airlines are under immense global pressure to reduce their emissions and transition to cleaner fuels. The call for greener alternatives has spurred a heightened demand for biofuels derived from animal fats, a trend that is predicted to surge dramatically by 2030.
But T&E's report suggests that this demand could far exceed the available supply of animal fats, potentially triggering a domino effect with dire environmental implications. "There's not a never ending supply of animals, or animal fat," said Matt Finch, a representative from T&E.
He went on to warn that the aviation sector's demand for animal fat-based fuels could strain other industries that currently use the same resources. This could lead to an increase in palm oil consumption, a known driver of deforestation and high carbon emissions.
A Growing Appetite for Biofuels
The BBC has reported a gradual increase in the demand for biodiesel made from animal waste and used cooking oil in the UK over the past 20 years. This trend is reflected across Europe, where fuel production from animal waste has skyrocketed, growing 40-fold since 2006.
However, meeting the mounting demand for biofuel might not be sustainable with animal fats alone. Experts are now raising concerns that the industry might turn to palm oil, another source of high carbon emissions. The potential pivot to palm oil is particularly alarming given its link to deforestation and biodiversity loss, casting a shadow on the initial intentions of creating a greener aviation industry.
It's not the first time that animal byproducts have been put to use in various industries. They have long been utilized in the pet food and oleochemical (soap and cosmetics) sectors. However, the leap in demand could upset this balance.
Finch warned, "So if you put on a massive extra demand source from anywhere from aviation, in this case, the industries where fat is currently being used, will have to look for alternatives. And that alternative is palm oil.
So aviation indirectly, will be responsible for increasing the amount of palm oil being pulled through the European systems." With the quest for "greener" aviation fuel unfolding, the T&E study underlines the importance of carefully examining the potential repercussions of such alternative energy sources. It's a sobering reminder that not all that glitters is green in the world of sustainable energy.