Putting Waste Materials to Work Butterball and Changing World Technologies

There has been a lot of talk about biomass and biofuels over the last few years, and while everyone is intrigued by the idea of producing a usable fuel alternative from waste materials or sustainable crops, the process may take more time than expected. In Carthage, Missouri, one company tried to put the process to practical use. Changing World Technologies, based in New York, in an attempt to be the first large scale biofuel refinery to use a variety of waste products, opted to incorporate some unusual materials rather than corn and soy to produce a usable fuel. Plastics that could not otherwise be recycled, garbage, glass, metal, and animal waste, were among those discarded materials that were being used.

One major contributor to the mix came from an unlikely source. Close to the Changing World Technologies facility, ConAgra Foods’ Butterball Turkey slaughterhouse produced an abundance of turkey residue and innards that needed to be disposed of, and they were all too happy to sell them to the biofuel facility. For Butterball, this was a winning situation, since they could sell the feathers, heads, and guts of their turkeys to Changing World Technologies for a higher price than a rendering plant would pay. In fact, the situation  worked out so well for Butterball that they soon planned on selling their waste materials to other biofuel plants across the country. By pre-separating the fats and oils, They can make their waste more easily used in fuel production.

In contrast to some biofuels, Changing World Technologies, because they threw everything into the mix, produced a thicker fuel which was not well accepted and difficult to sell at best. Overall, it actually cost more to produce than it sold for. In the first quarter of 2008, the company lost over $5 million, which at the time was considered acceptable for a fledgling business. However, by 2009, they had filed for bankruptcy, and later closed their Carthage facility.

Everyone agrees that companies such as CWT are on the right track in proposing creative uses for otherwise discarded materials, and certainly it is well known that fats can produce fuel, however, it will take some time and further technology apparently to come up with a usable and affordable form. The research will undoubtedly continue and companies like Butterball that have valuable waste material may be able to put every part of their product to good use.