After worries over the last few weeks of diethylene glycol being substituted for glycerin in cough syrup and toothpaste, I was happy to be reminded that we have a green source for glycerin. No need to risk using Chinese-sourced glycerin – glycerin (glycerol) is a by-product of biodiesel production.
But rather than sell it for pharmaceutical uses, researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia are investigating the biodiesel by-product for use in cattle feed:
In a study that began this month, Monty Kerley, professor of ruminant nutrition in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, is examining the effectiveness of glycerin as cattle feed. Through November, the MU researcher will monitor the growth habits of 60 calves from various breeds to determine if bio-leftovers provide a healthy main course to cattle. The study has two main priorities: first, to determine if glycerin has a positive or negative effect on calves’ growth performance, and second, to assess its impact, if any, on meat quality.
Making biodiesel from waste vegetable oils usually produces glycerol as about 10% of the reaction. Identifying new uses for this glycerin/glycerol “waste” is anticipated to catch up with the increasing demand for biodiesel. So even if successful, the UMC researchers feel that the animal feed solution will only be a short-term fix:
Kerley said developing usages for glycerin necessitates this type of research. In recent years, academic scientists and private-sector companies have been racing to find solutions and applications for the byproduct. An alternative food source for cattle is but one possibility. However, it’s likely only a short-term option for the cattle industry.
“We probably have a three- to five-year window to use this for animal feed at a reduced cost,” Kerley said. “This glycerin is a wonderful starting compound for building other compounds that can be applied to numerous industrial purposes. After three to five years, you’ll see industrial applications utilizing this glycerin, and that may price it out of the animal feed industry.”
Right now, glycerin is cheaper than corn on a per-pound basis – the UMC press release cites glycerin as costing only 4 cents per pound, half the price of feed corn. But I’m curious as to how it will be formulated with the animal feed – glycerol is a goopy mess. This research will address how cattle can use the glycerol at up to 20% in the diet and how efficiently it is used as a source for building muscle protein.
But why not also consider channeling biodiesel-produced glycerol into the pharmaceutical, chemical, and cosmetics industry to reduce the risks associated with importing tainted glycerol? I’m sure that commodities chemistry experts are examining how best to channel this waste stream into production.