CENTER CROSS, Virginia — Rather than looking to faraway oil fields, American motorists soon may find themselves turning to American farmers’ crops as a new source of energy.
Virginia farmers grow about 500,000 acres of soybeans annually, and now, there’s a new market.
Soy biodiesel is good for diesel engines. Fuel made from soybeans is kinder to the environment than petroleum, and, with each year’s crop, it’s 100 percent renewable.
Soy biodiesel could some day help move the petroleum monopoly away from the Middle East and into the hands of American farmers. It was unavailable in Virginia until a few weeks ago, when Noblett Oil and Propane in Kilmarnock began selling it to owners of diesel-powered vehicles.
Montague Farms, a large farming operation in Center Cross, about 15 miles south of Tappahannock, is a customer. For about three weeks, the farm’s four trucks that travel the East Coast have been using a 2 percent blend of biodiesel soy fuel.
“The engine is running cooler,” said Floyd Brooks, who drives a 1995 Western Star with a 435-horsepower Caterpillar engine. “The truck has a little more power. It runs better now than it did when we first bought it, and the fuel mileage has really improved.”
The oil temperature in each truck also has dropped by up to 25 degrees, said Bill Taliaferro, president of Montague Farms and a member of the Virginia Soybean Board. That means less friction and longer-lasting engines.
Soy biodiesel costs a few cents more per gallon than regular diesel, said Douglas E. Faulkner, vice president of Noblett Oil, whose company has sold more than 50,000 gallons in Virginia.
The cost soon could be competitive with petroleum-based diesel, Faulkner said, if an energy bill passes that’s being considered in Washington. Soy biodiesel distributors could get a 1 cent per gallon rebate to hand back to customers for every percentage point of soy blend, from 1 percent to 20 percent.
The energy portion of the new Farm Bill also looks out for renewable American fuel sources. It includes $5 million for education and grants, and another $6 million for testing, said Susan Haller, spokeswoman for the Virginia Soybean Association.
In all, the Farm Bill provides $405 million to encourage the development and use of fuels from crops.
It’s an indication that the federal government is dedicated to cultivating domestic fuel sources, Haller said.
“America is good at growing,” Taliaferro said, grinning. “We’d be able to grow enough to supply our own fuel.”
Fuel can be made from any vegetable with oil as a byproduct. Already, fuel is made from corn and hemp. Potential exists for fuel from barley, peanuts, cotton seeds, even sweet potatoes.
“Soy oil is the most plentiful and least expensive,” Haller said.
One bushel of soybeans produces a gallon of soy biodiesel. That same bushel also provides soy meal to feed animals and creates other useable byproducts.
Biodiesel soy can be used in any diesel engine with no engine modifications. Haller drives a Ford diesel pickup fueled by a soy blend. Until the fuel became available in Virginia, she said, she was “splash blending” at the diesel pump. She poured a 2 1/2 -gallon bottle of biodiesel into her tank with each fill-up.
A 20 percent blend provides optimal mileage and emissions performance, Haller said. Diesel engines also can run — and run well — on pure soy biodiesel.
“I know, because I’ve been out in the middle of nowhere, when I couldn’t get diesel, and I’ve poured straight soy biodiesel into the tank,” she said.
The Montague Farms’ fleet includes two Kenworths, a Western Star and an International — all manufactured between 1987 and 1995 — with Cummins, Caterpillar, Detroit and Mack engines, all running smoothly.
John Deere has recommended soy biodiesel for its tractor engines, Haller said, and Cummins, one of the country’s biggest makers of large diesel engines, has approved the product.
“Using soy biodiesel causes no warranty problems for any engine manufacturer,” Haller said.
And the emissions are much cleaner, Haller said, especially in the area of heavy metals, thought to cause asthma and some cancers.
Faulkner’s oil company buys soy biodiesel from a distributor in Maryland that gets its supply from a manufacturing plant in Ohio. The nation has about 20 soy biodiesel plants, Haller said. The Virginia Soybean Association wants one in Virginia.
A soy biodiesel plant could cost from $300,000 to $5 million, depending on its size. Southern States Cooperative, a major farm supply company, is conducting a feasibility study on soy biodiesel, Haller said, and may consider a partnership with the Soybean Association to finance a plant somewhere in the central part of the state.
Meanwhile, the association is looking for other potential investors.
What’s the best thing about biodiesel soy? The smell, say those who use it.
“It smells like french fries,” said James Rainier, fleet manager at Montague Farms. “You can actually stand to be behind a truck or a bus burning soy diesel.”
For more information, contact:
Virginia Soybean Association
(Vgl. auch Meldung vom 2002-04-20.)
Source: Virginia Soybean Association, May 13, 2002; www.globalhemp.com, 22.05.2002.