Grown, Made & Used in Missouri
By Ron Kotrba, RonKo Media Productions
The state of Missouri, where the commercial U.S. biodiesel industry was born in 1991 with a research investment from the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, is home to seven biodiesel production facilities today that can produce more than 200 million gallons per year. Ideally, every drop of Missouri-made biodiesel would be used in-state, completing the value-added circle of planting and harvesting soybeans; crushing them into soybean meal, oil and other products; processing soy oil into biodiesel; and then using that homegrown fuel to power everything from over-the-road tractor-trailers to home heating systems, farm trucks, tractors, locomotive engines and other on- and off-road diesel vehicles. But today, only a quarter to a third of that Missouri-made biodiesel is being bought and consumed in-state, with the majority of it being shipped to other states such as Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, California and elsewhere, says Matt Amick, executive director of the Biodiesel Coalition of Missouri.
“Our in-state consumption could be improved if more biodiesel was sold at retail stations,” Amick says, adding that truck stops along the state’s major interstates have done a lot to help increase the uptake of homegrown biodiesel. According to the BCM website, which features an interactive map of biodiesel retailers and distributors across the Show-Me state, Missouri is home to roughly 19 fuel distributors and 300 retailers that offer biodiesel.
While the map shows relatively good uniformity of retailers selling low-level biodiesel blends throughout the state, the distribution of retailers providing higher blends, as well as fuel distributors carrying biodiesel, is less uniform. Biodiesel blends of 6 to 20 percent are concentrated in Springfield and Joplin, and along I-44 cutting through the state, as well as on I-55 toward Memphis and I-70 from St. Louis to Kansas City, and in and around those two major metropolitan centers. Bulk fuel distributors carrying biodiesel are also unevenly concentrated around Kansas City and St. Louis, with a few carriers in Columbia and Jefferson City, and a few more in the northwest and southwest. The north-central and southeast portions of Missouri, however, are lacking in this department.
“Biodiesel is more accessible in some areas than others,” Amick confirms. “If I’m a farmer and I call my fuel supplier and ask for B20, some can get it easier than others. A few regions like southeast and northeast Missouri have lower access to biodiesel while others, such as the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, are good spots where it’s very accessible.”
The need for improvement in distribution of bulk biodiesel and the retailing of higher-level blends in Missouri doesn’t—and shouldn’t— discount what those fuel distributors and retailers who chose to provide biodiesel have done to increase its availability throughout the state. These forward-thinking companies have made a conscious decision, some quite early on, to forge local markets for Missouri- made fuel grown by the state’s soybean farmers. One such firm is MFA Oil Company.
In 1993, biodiesel was not easy to find. MFA Oil’s foray into biodiesel distribution effectively predated any real commercial production.
“As a cooperative, we’ve always supported biodiesel,” says James Greer, the senior vice president of supply and transportation for MFA Oil. Greer has been with the company for 28 years and oversees the procurement of gas, diesel, propane, biodiesel and lube products. He also oversees dispatching those products direct to customers or retail locations. “We’ve been selling biodiesel since 1993,” Greer says, adding that he was with the company for about a month when MFA Oil announced that, with help from a federal grant, it would supply the city of Columbia with biodiesel for city buses.
“After that initial use for a few years in Columbia, we began supplying biodiesel to an electric co-op in northeast Missouri,” Greer says. “At that time, it was cost prohibitive unless we had help. Those accounts eventually went away and by then, in the late 1990s, West Central Cooperative in Ralston, Iowa, got going—and that’s when we really got into it.”
West Central is the co-op out of which Renewable Energy Group was born.
“Every gallon of farm-delivered red-dyed fuel we sold was B2,” Greer says. “We advertised that, and it grew over time.”
Today, MFA Oil sells 1 million to 2 million gallons of pure B100 biodiesel per year sold in various blends throughout the state. The company owns 75 convenience stores and filling stations at which it sells biodiesel blends.
“We do a lot of B5 blending all across state,” Greer says. “The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) uses a B20 blend from April through September, and we blend that for them as well. We either own or lease blending facilities in six locations across the state, near fuel terminals, and that is how we make it work. Our bulk plants are scattered throughout Missouri, eastern Kansas, central and northeast Arkansas and southern Iowa. These are bulk storage facilities with an unattended fueling site attached.”
MFA Oil splash blends biodiesel from one of its sites with petroleum diesel from a nearby terminal. The blend
fuel is then delivered to its final destination—whether that’s one of MFA Oil’s retail stores, commercial or government accounts, farmers or other customers.
“Anyone who wants bulk delivery of fuel, that’s who we deliver to,” Greer says. “We also do specific blends in most areas of the state, depending on what the customer orders. We even have one farmer using a B50 blend.”
The biodiesel MFA Oil blends is bought directly from the manufacturer. MFA Oil is an investor in Mid-America Biofuels in Mexico, Mo., a 51 percent farmer-owned producer. In addition, MFA Oil purchases biodiesel from the Archer Daniels Midland facility in Deerfield, Mo., and from Cargill’s plant in Kansas City and Ag Processing Inc. (AGP) in St. Joseph.
When asked whether MFA Oil could do more to promote and sell biodiesel, Greer says, “From my company’s perspective, I think we’ve done a lot. No one said we had to do we what we did. We did it to support agriculture. If I could go back in time to provide even greater access, I would have put a few more [blending facilities] in a few more areas in the state. But we’re going to fix that this year. We’ll get a couple more built. Our customers are asking for it in a few areas. We’ll put in heated tanks, a loading arm, and a computer system to authorize that pump.”
In addition to selling biodiesel, MFA Oil uses it, too. The company fuels its trucks with blends up to B20.
Consumers Oil Company began selling biodiesel to Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, where its ag-retail cooperative is based, in the early 2000s, according to Harold Spire, general manager. Today, the fuel distributor has one retail location in Maryville where it sells biodiesel blends.
“In the summer, we sell between 2 and 5 percent at the pumps,” Spire says, adding that Consumers Oil can “blend it however they want it. But not too many take it as B20. We deliver a lot to MoDOT in the summertime, and that’s all B20. We have a lot of on-farm delivery, and we blend anywhere from 2 to 10 percent for farmers that want it.”
Spire says Consumers Oil’s customers are mostly farmers, so the reason the co-op sells biodiesel—and only the soy-based variety—is to help Missouri farmers and biodiesel producers who raise and process the crop into fuel get more value out of the products they make. “That’s the reason we did it,” he says. “Our customers are farmers.”
Like MFA Oil, Consumers Oil doesn’t just blend and sell biodiesel, but the co-op also uses the fuel.
“Most of what we use is between 5 and 10 percent,” Spire says. “With ultra-low sulfur diesel, the refining process takes a lot of the lubricity out of diesel fuel, so if we put soy biodiesel in to add lubricity, it helps the injectors, pumps and stuff like that. That’s why we do it. And we’re using a product that we raise. It’s also renewable—sustainability is a big thing now.”
Consumers Oil gets most of its soy-based biodiesel from AGP in St. Joseph.
“If we have to get it elsewhere, we will— but we don’t like to,” Spire says. “We’ve been with AGP for a long time.” The co- op buys B99.9 and has one 10,000-gallon tank in Maryville in which it stores soy biodiesel. Spire says Consumers Oil has considered installing blender pumps so that consumers at its retail station may blend 10 or 20 percent, if they wish.
As a company that blends and sells biodiesel, Spire says there’s not a direct financial advantage to Consumers Oil offering the homegrown fuel—other than farmers being able to use their own product.
“It helps them get a better price for their soybeans,” he says. “We do it because we raise it. I grow it, I use it.”
Read the entire issue of Missouri Soybean Farmer here.