For more than 130 years, Darling International has operated in a little-known corner of U.S. industry, breaking down the leftovers of the meat industry for products including cattle feed and cosmetics.

Then last month the Irving-based rendering giant announced it was entering the biofuels market. Partnered with Valero Energy Corp., Darling was beginning production at a $425 million plant in Louisiana converting animal fat into fuel.

Biofuels “make up between 25 and 30 percent of sales in fats and oils now,” said Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association. “It’s provided a whole new outlet that just adds to the traditional market, which is primarily animal feed.”

From soybean farmers to used cooking oil recyclers, recent growth in the biofuels sector has given industries that trade in organic matter an unexpected entree into the energy sector.

Last year biofuels accounted for more than 7 percent of U.S. transportation and heating fuel. From coast to coast, ethanol and biodiesel are being increasingly mixed with traditional petroleum-based products to run cars and trucks.

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