7 Januar 2004

Fuel firm spreading the word: Mustard

Forget the fabled french-fry grease touted a few years ago as the fuel of the future for diesel engines. Mustard is the energy condiment du jour, an up-and-comer in the quest for clean and renewable biofuels.

Colorado’s largest purveyor of diesel fuel made from vegetable oils has launched a mustard campaign, seeking to convince local wheat farmers that mustard seed can become a profitable niche crop.

Fort Collins-based Blue Sun Biodiesel envisions a mustard-based biofuels industry that could produce $178.5 million a year in new income and generate 950 jobs.

Most biodiesel now being sold in Colorado comes from soybeans grown in the Midwest. The vegetable-based fuel is renewable, burns cleaner than petroleum diesel and requires no engine modifications.

The benefits have attracted several customers, including school- district bus fleets and a handful of municipal governments. “But the benefits could grow if oil from Colorado-grown mustard seed replaced soybean oil as a fuel feedstock”, said Jeff Propst, president and chief executive office of Blue Sun Biodiesel. “Mustard seed”, he said, “offers these advantages:

-A higher oil content, 40 percent, compared with soybeans’ 18 percent.

-Less energy needed to process the oil into fuel. Mustard-seed oil will yield about 4 units of energy per unit of energy spent in processing; soybeans yield about 3 units of energy per unit expended.

-Better lubricating properties, which may help extend engine life.

-Higher cetane ratings, a measurement of the ignition quality of the fuel, similar to the octane rating in gasoline.

-Improved performance in cold weather. Some biodiesel users have complained about soy-derived diesel’s poor flow qualities in freezing temperatures.

-Better drought tolerance and resistance to heat compared with soybeans and other oil-bearing crops.

Best of all, it’s going to support Colorado farmers, keep revenues in the state and build a tax base here,” Propst said.

Besides its superiority over soybeans, mustard-seed oil will perform far better than used cooking oil, a biodiesel feedstock that has attracted plenty of public attention, he said. “Waste grease is not high quality, and it has been trivializing the huge opportunity this industry has,”

Blue Sun has formed a growers’ co-op in Colorado – and another for Nebraska farmers – in which members can purchase an equity stake in the fuel company and secure the right to sell their mustard crop.

Each farmer must invest a minimum of $5,000. In exchange, the farmer can grow up to 200 acres of mustard, sell it to Blue Sun and receive an annual dividend on the investment. About 100 Colorado farmers have expressed interest in the co-op, according to Blue Sun officials.

“We’re optimistic about it,” said Bennett wheat grower Kent Kalcevic. “It’s not going to make a huge difference in the economics of agriculture, but it’s worth trying.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the co-op a one-year, $450,000 grant that will give mustard growers an additional 2.5 cents a pound over the current 9 cents per pound they would receive for their crop. That would give farmers estimated net income of $60 an acre the first year, plus co-op dividends, followed by about $45 an acre in subsequent years without the USDA price support.

Agricultural scientists view mustard, like dryland wheat, as a hardy crop that can survive on normal precipitation without the need for irrigation. Because most wheat growers leave their fields fallow in alternate years, supporters view mustard as a complementary crop farmers could grow in fallow wheat fields without severely depleting soil moisture.

Kalcevic said he views mustard seed as a crop with potential, but only if a large-scale market can be developed with heavy consumer demand that will induce farmers to plant significant acreage.

So far, consumer interest has been low because of biodiesel’s limited availability and its cost. The fuel blend that most customers prefer – 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel – costs about 20 cents a gallon more than petroleum diesel alone.

The higher cost would be offset by a 20-cent-per-gallon tax reduction on biodiesel under a proposal that Congress may consider in a new energy bill expected to pass early next year.

“From everything I’ve seen, (mustard-derived diesel) is a superior fuel to biodiesel from soybeans,” Kalcevic said. “But the only way it’s really going to work is if the Front Range gets behind it and buys millions and millions of gallons of this fuel.”

(Vgl. Meldung vom 2003-01-24.)

Source: Denver Post vom 2004-01-02.

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