Can soy oil help Delta economy?

Last winter, Noel and TJ Lawhon, along with business associate Mark Holland, started talking about what fuel made from soybeans could mean for the Delta. Emboldened with the possibilities, Noel – who runs the McCrory, Ark.-based seed company – gave the okay and bio-diesel was in company holding tanks in May. All diesel engines in the Delta King fleet are now fed a blend of road diesel and the soybean fuel.

“There was no real preparation work for this at all” says T.J. Lawhon. “We have three tanks we keep diesel fuel in – a 4,000 gallon and two 2,000 gallons. They came here, checked how much diesel was left in the tank and then did the calculations about how much soy diesel (B100) to put in to make a 4 percent blend. We’re using a 4 percent blend across the board here.

Our original purchase was for 6,000 gallons of the blended material.”

The blending of the regular diesel with B100 occurs at the tank. The Lawhons’ fuel distributor in McCrory buys B100 out of a plant in Illinois. The distributor has it shipped in and stored. When he visits the Delta King complex, he brings both B100 and commercial diesel on his truck. He then blends them into the Lawhons’ tanks.

“We don’t hold any of the B100 material here, just the blend. The actual action of pouring the two fuels into the tank mixes them. We’re using this in any vehicle we have with a diesel engine. Nothing has to be done to the engine to accommodate the fuel,” says Holland, Delta King finance and information systems director.

Everything in a diesel engine – filters, injectors – accepts the 4 percent blend with no trouble, says T.J. B100 is a solvent and isn’t a gluey, oily substance like most people suspect. Since it is a solvent, it actually cleans the engine while in operation. B100 will actually make the solvents in road diesel settle to the bottom of the tank.

“Those particles then get into the filter so that means filters must be changed more often. But other than cleaning filters, that’s it. And that isn’t really a bad thing. So far, we’ve been getting the same miles-to-the-gallon as with regular diesel,” says T.J.

The Lawhons admit it’s costing more money to operate on soy diesel. But that extra expense can be easily overcome if enough people start using the soybean-derived fuel. The biggest expense the Lawhons' have found with B100 is freight – just getting the B100 to McCrory. The more demand there is, though, the more sense it would make for an investor to put a plant in some Delta state, says Noel. But a demand must be created.

“The soy diesel is costing us 4 cents per gallon more than road diesel. If we use 20,000 gallons of diesel, we’ll pay $800 more than we would otherwise. That won’t break the bank. It’s a small price to pay when you put that beside how many bushels of soybeans we’re taking off the surplus. If everyone started doing that, the surplus would drop and prices for soybeans would rise. Farmers would be happy and taxpayers would be happy that subsidy checks wouldn’t have to be as high,” says Noel.

For more information on this story, see the Sept. 13 Delta Farm Press.

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