It started as a war-time snack that reduced waste during food scarcity, but now tallow is making Australia one of the most significant players in biofuel exports.

Made from animal fat, exports of tallow exceeded $1 billion for the first time in the 2022-23 financial year, the Department of Agriculture said.

Australia is now the world’s largest exporter of the animal by-product and production has reached record highs — but it’s not just food driving the demand.

Rendered useful

Abattoir director and exporter Terry Nolan said tallow — also known as dripping — was historically used for food.

“They say that potato chips cooked in drippings or tallow are the most flavoursome chips,” he said.

“[And] there’d be many a person who’s had drippings on bread.”

More than 100 years ago tallow was rendered into drums in Australia and sent to the United Kingdom to be used as cooking oil or for making candles.

That rendering, when the raw fat and sometimes bone is heated and pressed to remove moisture, extends its shelf life by preventing bacteria from growing.

It allows for inedible waste from butchering to be converted into by-products used in livestock feed, cosmetics, explosives and biofuels.

About half of an animal raised for food is considered inedible, according to Australian Renderers Association (ARA) president Peter Milzewski, who represents the industry.

“Rendering has been ensuring waste is reduced or eliminated through repurposing,” he said.

“Without rendering, that would go to landfill.”

Most rendering operations are integrated directly into abattoirs, like Nolan Meats in Gympie, 180 kilometres north of Brisbane.

The tallow produced in Nolan Meat’s family-owned operation is used as a protein supplement in animal feed or sold to traders.

“I think everything’s valuable … but it goes a bit deeper than that in an ethical sense,” he said.

“You try to use every last bit of the animal so that we’re not wasting products.

“It’s just good business not to waste things.”

Versatile yet volatile

Global demand for tallow was high in the early 2000s, and Mr Milzewski said it surged again in 2011 when it was incorporated into the biofuel industry.

Despite being restrained by its reliance on meat production, ARA figures show the growth has continued, with production last year reaching 550,000 tonnes, 450,000 of which were exported.

The US and Singapore biofuels industries make up 90 per cent of Australian tallow markets, with China and South Korea also taking a small portion.

Meat and Livestock Australia analyst Tim Jackson said the demand was led by the biofuel industry, which made headlines when the first commercial fossil fuel-free airliner flew from London to New York on purely high-fat low-emissions fuel.

“In the United States, there’s been a growing industry converting tallow into petrol, diesel and jet fuel substances,” he said.

Prices are also surging, reflecting the high demand.

In the 2022-23 financial year, international prices peaked at $2,500 per tonne and are currently sitting above historical averages at $2,000 per tonne.

Mr Jackson said domestic prices were “double or triple the historic norm” at $1,900 per tonne.

“While the prices are volatile … they’ve stayed substantially higher than we’ve seen before,” he said.

Back to basics

In Australia tallow is primarily used in animal feed and feedstock, but there’s a growing popularity in cottage industries.

Nish Murphy started making skin care products using tallow during her second pregnancy, eventually creating an online business.

She renders the tallow several times using water which removes the beef smell and impurities.

“Then we blend it and add whatever additional ingredients we’ve got,” she said.

Popular with customers who have sensitive skin, she said it was difficult to find large-scale suppliers.

“We’re trying to keep up with the demand.”

Farmer and retailer Kylie Carr started making tallow as part of her nose-to-tail operation.

“The process is quite lengthy for me and I only have small quantities of it,” she said.

She said her customers primarily used it for “back-to-basics” cooking.

“They cook their steak or their chicken in it and it just adds that extra flavour.”


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