He had a broad face and a round little belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

Whale blubber once provided the fuel for the nation’s lanterns. Could the human equivalent soon become the fuel of your future?

I’m inspired for my first post by Kate Sheppard’s “You Want Me to Put What in My Tank?“, in which she documents the growing interest in making biodiesel from unconventional sources.

One of those sources is human fat obtained from suction lipeptomy, commonly known as “liposuction.” The trend was started by New Zealand biodiesel enthusiast Peter Bethune, who recently contributed some of his own fat toward his quest to break the round-the-world speed record in a powerboat fueled entirely by biodiesel. Now, it seems, a Norwegian company is close to signing an agreement with Miami, Florida’s Jackson Memorial Hospital to produce biodiesel from blubber extracted during the hospital’s liposuction operations (see “Fortune in Fat“).

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The supply of liposuction-derived fat is rather limited, however, except in the neighborhood of major medical complexes. Pondering that weighty problem, my colleague Monika (who asked that I not reveal her family name; I can’t imagine why) posed the obvious question: Why use only lard from the living? The potential supply of biodiesel feedstock would be so much greater if folks would be willing to donate their body fat after they pass away, just as many now donate their organs post mortem. She suggests printing up some “Triglyceride Donor” cards (“Fat Donor” might dissuade people from carrying such a card on their person) and distributing them to people as they enter shopping malls and fast-food restaurants.

Even Hollywood might be persuaded to get into the act, perhaps by re-issuing an updated version of the classic eco-flick Soylent Green. The character played by Charlton Heston in the original film could then shout in horror, “Biodiesel … is … people!”, just before a squadron of angry venture capitalists descends upon him.

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Morticians would obviously have to be trained to look for the donor cards, and in the careful removal of fat, but I cannot see this as a major barrier. And think of how post-mortem liposuction would improve the appearance of at least some of the deceased. “My, my! He never looked so good when he was alive!” may become a commonly heard utterance at open-casket memorial services.

Of course, like other forms of biodiesel, any that is made from liposuction fat would also benefit from generous federal subsidies. As a “virgin oil” — virgin in this case having nothing to do with the condition of the donor — derived from an animal fat, it would presumably benefit from the $1.00/gallon federal tax credit for agribiodiesel, rather than the measly $0.50/gallon tax credit earned for the production of biodiesel made from yellow grease (generally, waste grease and oils recovered from restaurants). That depends, of course, on lipodiesel entrepreneurs being able to convince the IRS that humans are, well, animals too. Assuming they can, a small-scale facility like the one proposed for Miami, which is expected to produce only 135,000 gallons of biodiesel a year, would qualify in addition for the $0.10/gallon “Small Agribiodiesel Producer (tax) Credit” on its entire annual output.

Lipodiesel would presumably benefit also from state-level incentives. In Florida, the site of the aforementioned lard-to-biodiesel plant, the state government offers a credit against the state sales and use tax on 75% of all capital costs, operation and maintenance costs, and research and development costs, incurred between 1 July 2006 and 30 June 2010 in connection with an investment in the production, storage, and distribution of biodiesel in the state. In many other states, producers could tap into state-financed production or blender credits. In Arkansas, for example, a biodiesel supplier is entitled to a tax refund of $0.50 per gallon of biodiesel fuel that is used to produce biodiesel mixtures containing not more than two percent (2%) biodiesel.

Fat profits are guaranteed, whichever way you cut it.