Tyson, Conoco in biofuel venture

The food-versus-fuel debate took a different turn last month when Tyson Foods Inc. announced a venture with oil company ConocoPhillips to make diesel fuel from animal fat.

“Over the last year, the companies have been collaborating on ways to leverage Tyson’s advanced knowledge in protein chemistry and production with ConocoPhillips’ processing and marketing expertise to introduce a renewable diesel to the United States,” said a joint statement.

Tyson will make capital improvements this summer to begin pre-processing animal fat from some of its North American rendering facilities. ConocoPhillips also will begin the necessary capital expenditures to enable it to produce the fuel in several of its refineries.

Using a proprietary thermal depolymerization production technology, the animal fats will be processed with hydrocarbon feedstocks. The result will be a new form of fuel, which the companies call "renewable diesel," apparently slightly different from biodiesel, which is made from vegetable oils.

The processing technology was developed at ConocoPhillips, culminating in a successful test at the company’s Whitegate Refinery in Cork, Ireland. ConocoPhillips began commercial production of renewable diesel using soybean oil in Ireland late last year.

Production is expected to ramp up over time to as much as 175 million gallons per year. Dick Bond, Tyson CEO, said it could represent 4-16 cents per share in additional annual earnings.

Tyson formed a renewable-energy division last year. The company generates about 2.3 billion pounds of animal fat a year in its operations, aqccording to Cnetnews.com.

The nation's largest pork processor, Smithfield Foods Inc., has been producing a biodiesel from animal fat at a small plant in Cleburne, Texas, for the past two years, reported Dow Jones newswires.

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