As the aviation industry seeks to cut down on fossil fuel usage, it has turned to an unexpected alternative: animal fat. However, a new study from Brussels-based nonprofit Transport and Environment suggests that this new method could be more detrimental to the planet than initially thought.

Experts from Transport & Environment warn that using animal fat for fuel is unsustainable without impacting other sectors, which could then resort to harmful alternatives like palm oil. Industries such as pet food manufacturing, candle making, and soap production use animal fat—a byproduct of industrial meat production—to decrease waste. However, the available animal fat is insufficient to meet the demand. The study states that a New York to Paris flight, fully fueled by pig fat, would necessitate the slaughter of 8,800 pigs each way.

A shift towards animal fat fuel by airlines would compel other industries to cut back their use. Pet food manufacturers, who consider animal fat a crucial, hard-to-replace ingredient, may struggle to compete with the aviation sector for this limited resource.

The report identifies palm oil as the “most likely substitute” for industries forced to replace animal fat due to its similar properties and low cost. However, palm oil production has been a significant contributor to deforestation, particularly in Southeast Asia. This has led to massive loss of old-growth trees, which are essential in the fight against climate change, and has pushed several species towards extinction.

Despite the challenges, countries including the United Kingdom and the United States have set ambitious targets for replacing jet fuel with sustainable alternatives. Yet, the drive towards such fuels might put additional pressure on the animal byproducts market.

The use of animal fats in biofuels in Europe has already surged fortyfold since 2006. The report warns that if industries resort to palm oil as a substitute for animal fats, this could counteract the benefits of sustainable fuel and result in a global increase in net carbon emissions.

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