Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 30, 2004. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Biodiesel use can benefit farmers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Record high oil prices are focusing a lot of attention on alternative energy sources, including biodiesel, a fuel derived from vegetable oils.
Since soybean oil is the most commonly used vegetable oil in biodiesel, it would seem soybean producers would be among its biggest fans. Farm use of biodiesel, however, is not widespread, and that concerns Thomas Howarth, who grows soybeans on his Circle H Farm near Cleveland.
"I would like to see more farmers aware of biodiesel," he said. "I'm lucky to live in an area where it's available."
Howarth is one of about a dozen Delta farmers who are regular customers for the biodiesel sold by Farmers Inc. in Greenville, one of the few sources for the product in Mississippi. Farmers Inc. sells a blend that is 2 percent biodiesel made from soybean oil and 98 percent regular diesel. Their supplier is West Central Soy in Ralston, Iowa.
"The price difference between the 2 percent biodiesel blend we sell and regular diesel currently is 3 cents a gallon," said Farmers Inc. manager Floyd Trammell. "Transportation costs from a Midwest supplier are high, and we hope to find a supplier closer to the Delta."
Keeping farmers and other potential users informed about biodiesel and research, such as work currently underway at Mississippi State University, can help biodiesel become more accepted, according Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board Chairman Morgan Beckham.
"Concern about voiding manufacturers' warranties has been one reason farmers and others have avoided biodiesel," Beckham said. "Major equipment manufacturers Case IH and John Deere, however, now warrant their engines to operate on biodiesel blends up to 5 percent."
Soybean producers who use biodiesel, he added, are supporting their industry and helping diesel producers meet upcoming federal regulations.
Federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations require sulfur additives in diesel be eliminated by October 2005 for on-road vehicles and by October 2009 for off-road vehicles.
Ironically, lack of government support is one of the stumbling blocks to widespread acceptance of biodiesel by farmers and other large-scale diesel users.
"Legislation that would provide a tax incentive on biodiesel of 1 cent per gallon for each percent of biodiesel blended has been introduced in Congress, but has yet to pass," Beckham said. "That incentive would be enough to offset the difference in the cost of blended biodiesel compared to regular diesel."
Bill Webster, owner of Biodiesel Fuels of Mississippi in Meridian, agrees that a tax break is needed.
"Congress needs to pass an energy bill that will increase demand for alternative forms of energy by making prices competitive," he said. "I have the capacity to make 1,000 gallons a day using mostly recycled soybean oil from catfish restaurants, but right now demand is sporadic."
Since last October, one of Webster's customers has been the Lauderdale County School System, which has been running nine of its buses on a blend containing 10 percent biodiesel.
"We've had no problems whatsoever with the buses that are running on the biodiesel," said Roger Wright, the school district's transportation director. "From a maintenance standpoint we've seen no differences in the vehicles running on regular diesel and the ones using the blend."
Webster noted that there is one very noticeable difference.
"The tailpipes on the buses running on the blend are clean; they don't have the black soot you usually see on diesel exhausts," he said.
The reduced emissions from the blend are the reason one of Webster's regular customers uses it for tractor pull competitions in enclosed stadiums. Another customer operates a swamp tour business and uses the biodiesel in his airboats so his customers don't have to smell diesel fumes.
The time and energy needed to convert soy oil into fuel are among the factors that push up costs and limit interest in large-scale production of biodiesel. Research supported by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at Mississippi State is seeking to overcome those obstacles.
Biological engineer Sandun Fernando in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is conducting one such project. He is developing a new catalyst for converting soy oil to biodiesel.
"The catalysts currently in use are homogenous -- they dissolve during the process and have to be refined out," he said. "We are working with a catalyst that does not dissolve, making its removal much easier."
Fernando still is evaluating the process, but his research indicates the use of the new catalyst can reduce the amount of time needed to convert soy oil to biodiesel from about one hour to maybe just five minutes.
"Reducing the amount of refining needed to remove the catalyst also lowers the amount of heat and pressure required for the process," he said. "As a result, the product cost should be reduced significantly."
Contact: Dr. Sandun Fernando, (662) 325-3280