Human Fat as Fuel?

Posted on February 22, 2011 by Courtney

Please welcome today’s guest poster, Suzzane DeLeon.

Bio-diesel remains one of the most lucrative green fuel options available today. Of the many purposed systems for refining bio-diesel they almost always universally use plant-based oils. Often overlooked is the use of animal fats to make bio-diesel, specifically human fat harvested from liposuction.

In the news of today’s obesity epidemic, much has been made of how to get rid of the fat harvested from abdomen liposuction. But what if that fat could be donated or even collected on an annual basis to make fuel to power cars and trucks? The technology is there; it actually has been in place for many years. Early on in the bio-diesel process, animal fat use acquired a bad name due to some shady practices by its proponents. Now that the technology has been refined, it is possible to use animal fat to derive fuel.

Another positive aspect of this technology is that it does not use or even remotely compete with virgin resources (such as corn, etc.) that could be used as foodstuffs for humans. In fact most of the animal (including fat from medical procedure liposuction) is a waste product today. 

Of course the above paragraph pertains to the use of ANIMAL fats, not HUMAN fat. Recently a flap about using fat from liposuction has arisen. Seems a doctor from Beverly Hills made bio-diesel from his patients’ fat without consent. Of course this crosses many boundaries, especially in California, due to state law prohibiting the use of medical waste as fuel. This of course brings up a moral issue (before all the other issues of sustainability and reliability, as well as others): Can a product made by humans be harvested to fuel vehicles, and what possible abuses of this practices can we expect to occur? Reasonable harvesting and use of the fat from abdomen liposuction in particular must be found to use this renewable resource.

For those of you questioning the ability of human fat bio-diesel, the voyage of the Earthrace from New Zealand is of interest. The Earthrace crew is attempting to break the world speed record for a round-the-world crossing using a bio-diesel fuel. This fuel is derived from human fat alone. When two volunteers donated 10 liters of human fat, it rendered 7 liters of fuel. Volunteers donated all the various fat for the voyage, which is enough to fill the 3,000-gallon fuel tanks. It is perhaps this type of volunteering — or maybe, in the future, selling of fat — that could provide a system to make it available to render into fuel.

Human fat rendered to bio-diesel may not ever catch on. But it is a plausible source of fuel for the future. If correctly regulated, the dangers of harvesting human fat for fuel can be limited. Yet whether the moral issues of this topic will ever be resolved is another thing entirely.


  1. When I saw The Kids in the Hall on tour last year, there was a skit about this. Weird.

    February 22nd, 2011 at 7:34 am
    Comment by Julie
  2. Okay, so you CAN use human fat to produce fuel, but would that ever happen on a scale that would actually make an impact? Maybe if we start farming humans and fattening them up like so many cattle.

    In that case, Mississippi and West Virginia should form their own sort of Cheetos-and-Mountain Dew-fueled OPEC and finally assert their economic dominance.

    (I’m truly sorry, West Virginia and Mississippi, but that joke was just teed up and ready. I’m ashamed of myself, but I’m clicking SUBMIT COMMENT anyway.)

    February 22nd, 2011 at 11:01 am
    Comment by mickey
  3. If the liposuction patient signs a waiver allowing their sucked-out fat to be used as fuel, then I see no moral dilemma. I don’t think this is a magic bullet fuel source, though. It’s going to have to take a combination of sources to create enough biodiesel to support all our fuel needs. It’s nice to know that this could be one piece of that puzzle.

    February 22nd, 2011 at 11:15 am
    Comment by Courtney
  4. Seems like another logical extension of our technologies. I think where this starts getting complicated is that traditionally the medical establishments charge for the disposal of these kinds of waste products from medical procedures. If they turn that into a revenue stream instead, are they going to pass along the savings to the customer. So customer protections kick in, because we all know they’d never consider that.

    I suspect that the kinds of places that would processes these fats normally would be animal processing plants. So the wastes would be taken there and processed en masse with animal fat streams and wouldn’t really be distinguishable as far as our consideration was concerned. I don’t think the affects would be the dramatic really, there are what nearly 500,000 performed a year, assuming 70% conversion like the article suggests, that’s 3,500,000 liters of bio-diesel produced. Let see 1 Liter = 0.26417205236 Gallons, so that gives us a million gallons of diesel give or take a few, well closer to .9 million. Either way, we consume 64.3 billion gallons a year currently. While it would help, it wouldn’t turn the tide. That being said, Tyson Foods could produce 1.14 billion gallons of Biodiesel with their chicken plants alone according to their analysis. Now according to most of them they are getting an 8 to 1 conversion rate. So closer to 12 to 13% conversion rate. But depending on who you ask, there is 8.7 billion tons roughly available. If we stole it all for fuel, that’s about a billion gallons of biodiesel from animal fat maximum.

    We should do it, it’s good for health concerns and disposal concerns. Sounds like an opportunity to me.

    February 22nd, 2011 at 12:12 pm
    Comment by Jamison
  5. Wow this brings self sufficiency to a new level!

    February 23rd, 2011 at 10:15 pm
    Comment by Rob
  6. We should definitely take the rendering of human fat and converting it to fuel under consideration. Also all animal fat. Question: Would such a fuel have a low emission rate? Would it be more or less harmful to the environment than what we use now? I can’t see any moral prohibitions to it. Maybe if people saw what happens to the human body when buried or even cremated they would accept this more quickly. Who wants their body, or the body of a loved one, crawling with bugs and blowing up because of expanding gases? Or burning up, letting the fat flame and leaving nothing but ashes? I’m sure the creator (he, she, it) could provide our souls with new and better bodies if he, she, it opted to do that. Meanwhile, has anyone heard of Bloom Energy, used by many large corporations now. Google

    April 30th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
    Comment by Marlene
  7. i am doing my science fair project on this issue. i hope that my results are going to help..)

    September 17th, 2011 at 5:45 pm
    Comment by sasha

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