by Jason Jenkins, Mill Creek Communications
It’s been three decades since Missouri’s soybean farmer-leaders first directed checkoff funds to support alternative fuel research. A 1992 Dodge pickup truck with a Cummins diesel engine was purchased, and University of Missouri researcher Leon Schumacher used the truck to test the performance of “Soy Diesel,” a homegrown fuel made from soybean oil.
To say the least, the research proved successful. What began modestly in an MU laboratory has spawned an entire industry. In 2021, 75 biodiesel plants nationwide produced more than 2.4 billion gallons of fuel. Missouri’s seven plants accounted for more than 10% of total production, ranking the Show-Me State as the country’s No. 2 biodiesel producer.
The industry’s growth offers soybean farmers the opportunity to use a fuel that ultimately adds value to their bottom line. According to Scott Fenwick, technical director for Clean Fuels Alliance America based in Jefferson City, Missouri, farmers are likely using biodiesel already and just don’t know it.
“Federal regulations don’t require labeling for biodiesel blends of 5% or less,” Fenwick says. “We believe that most of the diesel fuel sold in Missouri actually contains biodiesel.”
Blends with a higher percentage of biodiesel not only offer farmers more demand for their soybean crop but also improved fuel lubricity and combustion, allowing for prolonged engine life. “A lot of our studies show that biodiesel quality in the marketplace exceeds that of diesel fuel,” Fenwick adds.
As a “drop-in” fuel, biodiesel can be incorporated into any farm operation. It requires no special storage or handling requirements, nor does it require any engine modifications. The first step for farmers is to ask their local fuel supplier to provide a biodiesel blend.
“Thanks to federal policies including the renewable fuel standard and blender’s tax credits, we’re seeing a lot more B20 fuel — which is 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel — available in the market because it’s profitable to do so,” Fenwick says. “While there might be some regional accessibility limitations, B20 has become quite common.”
Once a farmer identifies a source for biodiesel, the next step is to ensure that on-farm bulk fuel tanks have been serviced.
“Today’s fuels, whether it’s biodiesel or regular diesel, require a bit more care in how they’re handled,” Fenwick explains. “When EPA regulations reduced the amount of sulfur allowed in diesel, it changed the fuel’s ability to hold moisture. This means that any water in the fuel falls out of solution and accumulates in the bottom of the tank. This can lead to microbial growth, which can result in corrosion and pitting of the tank and filter blockages.”
Fenwick recommends that gravity-fed tanks be inspected for water and sediment and cleaned, if necessary. He says farmers shouldn’t try to store any fuel for an extended time.
“The quicker you turn that fuel over, the better,” he adds.
Engine technologies advance quickly, oftentimes faster than the fuels they burn. Fenwick says that Clean Fuels Alliance America works with engine and vehicle manufacturers to ensure that blends up to at least B20 are fully supported. While the diesel engines in today’s equipment perform well burning higher percentages of biodiesel, Fenwick cautions farmers with older equipment.
“I’d say there could some concerns using higher blends in engines that are more than 25 years old,” he says. “Some of the hoses and gaskets used then contained natural rubber that could degrade. If you have a mid-90s tractor, I’d stick to B20 or lower. We haven’t seen any issues at B20.”
To learn more about Clean Fuels Alliance America, visit www.cleanfuels.org.