Burn, Bunny, Burn

In Sweden, they burn bunny rabbits for heat.  More specifically, rabbits from Stockholm that have been culled to battle overpopulation are freeze dried, shredded, and burned in a power station to provide energy to heat homes.  Obviously, some people have a problem with this.  On one side of the argument, animal rights groups (such as the Society for the Protection of Wild Rabbits) say that culling rabbits and using their bodies for fuel is like ignoring the main problem of overpopulation and turning the killing of rabbits into an industry.  On the other side, the purveyors of bunny death say that other methods of dealing with overpopulation simply displace the problem without diminishing numbers.  Overpopulation is bad for everyone, including the bunnies, so reducing their numbers through culling is the best option.  The ability to use their furry corpses as fuel is just a convenient afterthought.

What a Scandinavian bunny hunter might look like

All patronizing aside, the use of animal byproducts as fuels is not isolated to Scandinavian bunny hunters.  The use of animal fats as fuel is very old.  Lighting devices that rely on animal fat have been around for thousands of years.  More recently, people have started seriously looking at a broader range of animal byproducts as fuel sources.  The facility in Sweden that actually burns the rabbit carcasses is not limited to rabbits.  In fact, the power station only gets a very small part of its fuel from the desiccated ex-rodents.  They also use pigs, cows, moose, reindeer, wood chips, peat, and a variety of other wastes that are all ground up and chucked into the furnaces.  Really, any animal that has expired for any reason can be burned for fuel.  This even includes expired meat from the grocery store.

Obviously, animal carcasses are not the most useful of fuels.  They don’t pump well, wouldn’t work in an internal combustion engine, are expensive to raise, and they smell pretty foul.  Is there some other way that this idea could be used to obtain energy?  The answer to that unnecessarily leading question is yes.  In Alaska, a number of communities are already using the waste fat from fishing industry to generate heat.  This technology is already economically viable and much better for the environment.  The fish fat is non-toxic and doesn’t produce the harmful byproducts that you get when you burn petroleum.

Animal fat can be turned into biodiesel as well.  Biodiesel from animal fat is very similar to biodiesel from plant oils. The only major difference (other than source) is that animal based biodiesel solidifies at a slightly higher temperature than plant based biodiesel.  When blended with normal diesel, the two fuels are essentially identical.  This fact has not gone unnoticed by the agricultural industry.  Those same fisheries in Alaska may soon have the capacity to produce biodiesel from their fishy fats.  Other places near fishy facilities could find fish fat fortuitous for foregoing conventional fuels. Technology to utilize fish waste is being developed for use across Europe.  Switching from seafood to poultry, there are currently plans to build a $5million plant to convert the 2.3 billion pounds of waste fat from a Tyson chicken factory into an estimated 3 million gallons of biodiesel each year.

While the total energy from animals that we could utilize is small compared to the total global energy needs, the use of animal products as fuels is not to be overlooked when considering alternative energy sources.  Policy decisions are already shaping the growth of this corner of the energy industry.  For example, some places, such as the US and EU, have banned the dumping of raw meat in landfills.  Various forms of credits for green energy can also spur a growth in this market (Tyson and Purdue are testing chicken fat-biodiesel trucks for addition to their fleets).

So as for the bunnies, cute and fluffy is nice, but warmth and electricity is better.



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5 responses to “Burn, Bunny, Burn

  1. mkbloger

    I really hope that live animals are never to be considered as an alternative fuel! From the source article, these over populated rabbits were unwanted house pets, and something could probably have been done to prohibit irresponsible owners from releasing their once loved pets into the wild. Considering the manpower to capture the rabbits, energy used to freeze & transport them, and the added fuel to burn them, this can’t be a efficient way to generated heat. Why not stop selling rabbits in the pet store if they are every where?

    However, producing biodiesel from food waste animal oil is a great alternative to petro-diesel and biodiesel from crops. Hooray for utilizing waste! Large amount of food wastes are already becoming a problem for landfills, it’s really a win win solution to turn them into fuel. Biodiesel from animal fat is better than from vegetable oil[1].

    But after all, I think the best solution to the energy crisis is conservation and better efficiency. Not only utilize food wastes, if we can prevent on going energy wastes in the first place, we may not need to search for all these alternative fuel sources.


  2. juliaharvey

    In a related story, in 2007 a joint policy venture between the United States and Canada was announced, centering on the use of the renewable fuel “vivoleum,” a new Exxon oil product. A rep stated that “we need something like whales, but infinitely more abundant,” going on to describe the process of rendering human fat into fuel.* Participants at the conference where the news was announced were ask to light candles for Reggie, a deceased Exxon employee rendered into vivoleum. A tribute can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvDHOW9gp3c&feature=player_embedded

    *actually a prank pulled on the conference by the anti-globalization group the Yes Men. http://www.theyesmen.org

    • blairj

      Oddly enough, I considered this in writing my article (not that story specifically, but the use of people for fuel). While I think farming of people for fuel is pretty far fetched, I could see places like the one in Sweden offering to use the deceased as fuel so the dead could give back to the community one last time. If you’re not going to use your body any more, why not burn it to give your neighbors electricity? Morbid? yes. Out of the realm of possibility? I actually don’t think so.

      Neat story, thanks for the comment.

  3. mkbloger

    Well, the idea behind the Yes Men prank is to shock the people working for the oil industry and the world how crude big corporations have become just to make a buck. “Vivoleum” is a made up term to shame Exxon and the oil industry, but I guess it can spark ideas in other places…

    The Yes Men also did pranks on recycling human manure back into McDonald hamburgers. How’s that for alternative food resources?


  4. Very interesting elaboration of the bunny-to-warmth policy we’ve heard of. For another look on animal trimmings and agricultural waste to fuel check out the thermal depolymerization technology of Changing World Technologies (which seems to have gone out of business recently) where turkey offal is converted to light heating oil.

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