Town's Schools first to be Heated by Burning Cattle

A town in Norfolk, UK, has begun heating many of its buildings, including the schools, by burning oil made from melted-down cow and pig carcasses. Around 30 properties in the North Norfolk town—including both the primary and the secondary school—are taking part in test trials, which started in December. The 12-month heating trial is being sponsored by the University of East Anglia (UEA), whose Low Carbon Innovation Centre was instrumental in setting up the plan. In an attempt to lower carbon emissions, the animal derived biofuel is described as being “equal or lower in carbon footprint than natural gas.”

These days our bovine friends just can't catch a break: first it was suggested that they be phased out in favor of kangaroos due to certain innate emissions problems; then the EPA suggested that a carbon emissions tax be placed on every head of cattle in the US. Livestock do emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas that can be tied to climate change (aka Global Warming), but by anyone's standard cow methane has to be considered a natural part of the carbon cycle. No matter, based on federal agriculture department figures, the government could require farms or ranches with more than 25 dairy cows or 50 beef cattle to pay an annual fee of about $175 for each dairy cow and $87.50 per head of beef cattle.

Farmers from across the country have expressed outrage over the prospective cow tax. “This is one of the most ridiculous things the federal government has tried to do,” said Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, an outspoken opponent of the fees. The idea of a gas tax on cows has been raised in other countries, but so far no nation has been crazy enough to enact one.

Now, these folks from the UK are serious about using livestock as a source of heating fuel—triggering flash back visions of the burning cow stampede in the movie Mars Attacks. Actually, the replacement fuel now warming the children of Reepham in Norfolk is partly mixed with ordinary fossil fuel. The biologically-sourced portion is made from used cooking oil and from tallow, which in turn is made by rendering down fatty remains from slaughtered livestock. Strictly speaking, tallow is from cattle and lard is from pigs, but industry cares more about things like melting point. The oil now being burned in Reepham's boilers may have started out originally as any sort of animal.

Ignoring the carbon footprint of raising the animals and their fat in the first place—which accounts for 80% of the fat based fuel's overall carbon footprint—the resulting mixture is really quite green. It easily beats biofuels made from primary crops such as rapeseed oil or corn. The gas, transport fuel and electricity used in rendering, moving and processing the fuel is comparatively insignificant. By working closely with the oil heating industry, the project hopes to demonstrate that every aspect of fuel supply and boiler operation is compatible with the renewable fuel, and that industry will be able to define clear standards for the use and supply of the animal derived heating oil.

Partners in the pioneering project are UEA’s Low Carbon Innovation Centre, Norfolk County Council, local entrepreneur Andrew Robertson of Clean Energy Consultancy, and the two bodies that represent the oil heating industry in the UK and Ireland - the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) and the Industrial Commercial Energy Association (ICOM). “This is a major initiative in developing lower-carbon heating options for millions of properties, especially in rural areas, which depend on oil-fired heating,” said UEA's Dr Bruce Tofield.

Lisa Cook, head teacher at Reepham Primary School, said: “The children are enthusiastic about cutting carbon emissions and we have energy monitors for each class. They are genuinely thrilled to be taking part in such a significant experiment.” I would imagine that PETA is somewhat less enthusiastic. Nowadays, most schools are required to offer vegetarian menu options, should they also be required to offer vegetarian heating? It's this type of, well, bullshit that makes the eco-looney left so hard to take seriously.

Wrong End

Despite the popular misconception, many times more methane comes out the front end than from the back end of cattle.