Soydiesel could have broad potential in agriculture

CLEVELAND, Miss. -- While few Mississippi farmers are currently using soydiesel in their diesel engine equipment, the potential for the alternative fuel is huge, says Herb Willcutt.

“It’s estimated there is potential for 26 million gallons annually of biodiesel from Mississippi soybeans,” he said at a meeting sponsored by the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board.

Several of the meetings have been held around the state to create greater awareness of the alternative fuel. The soydiesel promotion effort is funded through checkoff dollars from soybean producers.

“Soy oil accounts for 50 percent of the vegetable oil produced in the world,” said Willcutt, Extension agricultural engineer with the Mississippi State University Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, “and a plentiful supply is readily available for blending with petroleum diesel.”

The United States currently imports 55 percent of its petroleum, he noted, and that’s expected to increase to 70 percent by 2020.

“Energy consumption is expected to increase by 40 percent to 50 percent by 2025. As their economies grow, China and India are becoming larger consumers of petroleum energy, and the competition for energy resources is becoming more intense. All this amplifies the need for the United States to be able to produce as much of its own energy as possible.

“When all costs are factored into the cost of a foreign barrel of oil, including protection of U.S. interests in the Mideast, it comes to $136. So, there’s more to consider than the two- or three-cent premium for biodiesel over petroleum diesel.”

Soy diesel is not raw vegetable oil, he pointed out; rather, it is produced by a chemical process that removes glycerin from soy oil and reduces its viscosity.

It must meet specifications of the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), and can be used in any concentration with petroleum-based diesel fuel in existing diesel engines with little or no modification.

For every 100 pounds of soybean oil and 10 pounds of methanol used in processing, the result is 100 pounds of soy biodiesel and 10 pounds of glycerin (which has value for industrial and other uses).

The soydiesel can be blended with petroleum diesel in varying ratios, and is denoted by the mixture; i.e., B20 grade is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.

“An average bushel of soybeans will produce 1.33 gallons of soydiesel, or about 40 gallons per acre, based on state average yields,” Willcutt said. It is estimated that 100 million gallons of soydiesel production would resulted in a 10-cent per bushel increase in the price of soybeans.

“Biodiesel has the highest positive energy balance of any fuel,” he noted. “It produces 3.2 units of energy per unit of fossil fuel used in production. Petroleum diesel production creates a negative energy balance, with only .88 unit of energy per unit of fossil fuel used in production. One gallon of biodiesel production can conserve four gallons of petroleum diesel.”

An added benefit of biodiesel is its higher lubricity, Willcutt said. “Adding 2 percent biodiesel to petroleum diesel will improve fuel lubricity by up to 66 percent, extending the life of the injector system and the engine.”

Biodiesel has a much higher flash point than petroleum diesel, 260 degrees F. compared to 125 degrees F., which greatly improves safety in storage and use, he said. It runs well under the harshest conditions, down to minus 35 degrees F.

Soydiesel has been “thoroughly researched and proven in more than 55 million miles of on-road use,” he said. “While it can be safely used in any diesel engine, it has particularly great potential for agricultural machinery.”

In 2000, Willcutt said, there were about 450,000 government vehicles burning biodiesel in the United States; today, there are an estimated 2 million, including the U.S. armed forces, the Postal Service, the Forest Service, and many municipal and school bus fleets.

Exhaust from engines running biodiesel is safer and less offensive than petroleum diesel, produces fewer cancer-causing compounds, and reduces the amount of carbon and other components that contribute to smog, acid rain, and greenhouse gases.

“The federal government is really taking a hard look at this energy source.”

Bioenergy research at Mississippi State’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering has focused on improving biodiesel production technologies, the properties of biodiesel, and finding additional uses for the glycerin byproduct, along with gasification systems for agricultural byproducts such as poultry litter, gin trash, switchgrass, etc.

Some sources for information about biodiesel are:

United Soybean Board

American Soybean Association

National Biodiesel Board

State soybean checkoff boards

e-mail: [email protected]
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