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At Fair Oaks Farms, an anaerobic digester converts half a million gallons of cow and hog manure each day into enough renewable energy to run a fleet of 42 milk delivery trucks.

At Fair Oaks Farms, an anaerobic digester converts half a million gallons of cow and hog manure each day into enough renewable energy to run a fleet of 42 milk delivery trucks. Abbie Fentress Swanson/NPR

What do beef tallow and manure have in common with t-shirts and pine needles? Turns out you can make high-quality, low-carbon transportation fuel with all of them. A growing number of biofuel producers are teaming up with farms, meatpackers and waste management companies to tap gassy waste to meet new demand for renewable jet fuel and diesel for vehicles.

Lots of different agricultural feedstocks – from sugarcane to sweet potatoes — can be used in renewable fuel. But there’s a bonus if you use organic waste. Methane, a super potent greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere as manure and food decompose. And that gas and that waste are increasingly a liability for farmers.

According to Steve Kaffka, director of the California Biomass Collaborative at the University of California, Davis, anaerobic digesters, which convert the waste into biogas and power, can be a good way for large farms to minimize their waste and create a value-added product from it at the same time.

Here’s the rest of my story on how food, farm and slaughterhouse waste are being turned into renewable transportation fuel.

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