The impact of biodiesel on the glycerine and tallow markets

The following is from an e-mail conversation I had recently with an Envirofuel reader who works in the oleo industry here in Australia. I thought it was an interested insight into the impact biodiesel production has had on existing glycerine and tallow based industries. The author has given permission for it to be printed. I’ve made some minor changes to wording and composition.

The problem with glycerine from biodiesel production is that it has heavy contamination from methanol. This makes it unsuitable to process for the glycerine consumer market. A few years ago the world glycerine market suffered a massive price slump as all of the biodiesel glycerine was coming on to the market. As it was starting to be used, it was discovered that it was unsuitable for most glycerine markets. As a consequence of this, traditional glycerine is now undergoing a massive price correction due to global shortages.

It is obviously a major focus of biodiesel manufacturers to produce a pharmaceutical grade glycerine. Unfortunately, high temperature low pressure distillation is the only way this can currently be done and any raw material that has been in contact with methanol is unsuitable for that type of process. Each new generation of biodiesel plant is claiming that they have developed the technology for pharmaceutical glycerine production to encourage enthusiastic investors. To this day though, it isn’t working. For that reason, I believe that a large portion of biodiesel glycerine goes into animal feed stock.

The biodiesel industry will dispute my claims that their glycerine is unsuitable, and with the way that technology is developing, there well maybe someone out there who has developed a way to handle it, but we are not seeing that reflected in demand reduction or degradation of pricing due to increased quantities on the market.

We have been a consumer of tallow for over 150 years. Now we are constantly under competitive threat from the start up biodiesel industry which is looking to use our raw material as a substitute for fuel generation. Globally this has pushed prices to ridiculous levels. The flow on from this will start to flow through to the consumer, as all of our finished products go into the general manufacturing industry. The competition for feedstock for traditional oleo-chemical industries, food and biofuel will result in the industry with the biggest subsidies or political popularity surviving.

It is pointless fueling the world from biofuels if we then can’t feed the world. For that reason, I personally am interested in any way that individuals and businesses can reduce their demand for energy.

Any insights like this into industries that are impacted by biofuels or alternative fuel production and use are welcome here. If your industry is suffering due to the somewhat slow move away from the oil economy free to leave a comment on a relevant post or on the Contact page. Every bit helps inform the debate.

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3 Responses

  1. There is currently over 10 million bushels of corn sitting in the US that is unsold. So your argument of not feeding the world has a problem. It is not the availability of corn. The actual price of a food product is around 18% of the market price of the product. Transportation costs are over 35 % of the cost! So if you can’t afford to move the 10 million bu of corn sitting here in storage in Iowa, is the problem a lack of food or skyrocketing fuel prices!

    Diesel fuel costs rising from $0.65 a gallon in 1999 to over $3.34 in 2008!!!!! Think people! 10 million bu of corn siting with no buyer!!! Factor in that corn productivity increases at over 5% per year. In Iowa we have gone from 44 bu/acre in 1944 to an amazing 165 bu/acre in 2007!!! They were expecting for 150 bu/acre and got even more!!! They expect to hit over 300 bu/acre by 2010!!! So we can grow the food and produce the fuel! Remember people you need to move it to market!

    Please learn about farming trends and before you rehashing the 1980’s debunked argument about food or fuel argument! Ethanol and BioDiesel yields also increase with each passing year! Currently producing petro diesel uses 1 unit of energy for each 0.8 units of energy of diesel produced! Yet to produce boidiesel, for every 1 unit of energy to you get a return of over 3.2 units of biodiesel. So what makes more sense loosing units of energy in petro fuels or gaining energy in biodiesel?

    Again, if there is no fuel to move the product to market, what is the point! And if we can use tallow to produce biodiesel to bring more food to the market and lower the diesel pollution by over 88% with biodiesel? So blaming the biofuels market and not the petro fuel market for high prices doesn’t hold much water! But I guess you would rather send all your transportation fuel money over to the kingdom instead of US farmers!

  2. In the article it says that high temperature low pressure distillation is not a good idea.

    Is this due to the flammability and exposive limits of the methanol in the crude glycerine feed?

  3. Through heat and distillation, methanol can be removed from the glycerine by product of bio diesel refining. So this shouldn’t be an issue.

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