Corn-based ethanol might be getting most of the biofuel headlines these days, but another renewable fuel source is also gaining in popularity.
Biodiesel was the topic of conversation at the North Dakota Soybean Council booth at the KMOT Ag Expo Wednesday morning. Hoon Ge of MEG Corp. was on hand to talk to anyone and everyone about the benefits of biodiesel. Ge said MEG Corp., a fuel consulting company, was teaming up with the North Dakota Soybean Council to get the word out about the biofuel and the role soybeans play in producing it.
"Biodiesel is one the ultimate fuels that will hopefully replace a lot of foreign petroleum," Ge said.
Ge noted last year the United States biodiesel industry produced over 1 billion gallons, and in 2013 is on track to produce 1.3 billion gallons. This is an enormous increase from 2000, when only around 1 million gallons was produced.
"We've seen tremendous growth in the last 12 years," Ge said. "So the last 12 years you're looking at one thousand-fold growth in biodiesel, and I think it's going to continue to grow."
Helping that growth is the Environmental Protection Agency's Renewable Fuel Standard 2, a federal requirement that 1.28 billion gallons of biodiesel be blended this year.
"And then next year it's going to continue to add, and each year is going to get higher," Ge said. "So because of that we think the biodiesel industry will continue to grow."
Biodiesel is a cleaner-burning fuel made from renewable sources such as soybeans. Ge said biodiesel provides approximately the same fuel efficiency as regular diesel.
"It's not like gasoline and ethanol where ethanol loses some (mileage)," Ge said. "Biodiesel is pretty similar per gallon as regular diesel or ultra-low-sulfur diesel."
The price of biodiesel is also the same as or even lower than regular diesel because of a $1 per gallon blenders' credit. There is also a renewable identification number that acts similar to a carbon credit, further reducing the price of biodiesel for consumers.
"Because of that combination of $1 per gallon credit plus the RIN credit, right now biodiesel is either equal or less price than regular diesel," Ge said.
At the moment biodiesel usage in North Dakota is confined mostly to the eastern part of the state, along the border with Minnesota because that state has a mandate to use 5 percent biodiesel year-round.
"Because of the mandate in Minnesota, they carry (biodiesel) right on that border - obviously in the Fargo area, Grand Forks area, et cetera," Ge said. "Again, I think people will start caring more here up in this area once they find out that it's less cost than diesel fuel."
Biodiesel isn't just good for consumers. Ge said soybean producers stand to benefit from soy-based biodiesel, as well, just like corn producers benefit from ethanol.
"Because of biodiesel, soybean farmers add quite a bit to their bottom line," he said. "So again, we think that by encouraging them, promoting the biodiesel industry, that it helps them with the profitability of their soybeans."
Much like ethanol, Ge said people do have concerns about biodiesel. He was handing out pamphlets outlining several biodiesel myths and the facts to refute them.
One of the myths is that biodiesel doesn't work well in cold weather. Ge said they have found a blend of diesel with up to 5 percent biodiesel works well in the winter. He noted there have been very few issues with it in Minnesota, which has the 5 percent biodiesel mandate.
"People don't hesitate using it in the summertime, but a lot of people hesitate using it in the winter," Ge said. "We feel that up to 5 percent biodiesel ... there really is no difference between biodiesel and regular diesel in terms of performance in the wintertime."
Ge said they run a diesel helpline to answer any questions people might have about diesel or biodiesel at 1-800-929-3437. The helpline also provides troubleshooting for fuel quality and filter plugging issues.
One of the biggest myths Ge discussed was a similar stigma corn-based ethanol has faced - more biofuel production equals less food production.
"A lot of people don't realize that we don't use 100 percent of the soybean. There's 80 percent soybean meal, and 20 percent oil," Ge said. "We only take the oil out to make biodiesel, so we're still creating all the food. Obviously soybean meal is used to feed the cattle and pig and poultry industries."
Ge said before biodiesel the soybean industry had trouble getting rid of the 20 percent oil, which limited the crop's growth potential. Now that biodiesel is giving soybean oil a useful outlet, more soybeans can be grown for food, as well.
"So we actually help by getting rid of the byproduct of the soybean, making it into a useful product as biodiesel. That will promote more growth (for soybeans). There's a tremendous need for soybean meal," Ge said. "Again, you've got the poultry industry, you've got the other animal industries they feed them (soybean meal) to. Obviously we eat them (animals) eventually. And the Third World, they eat soybean meal as a number one protein source.
"So because of all that, if we didn't have a way to get rid of soybean oil, you're not going to grow soybeans because you can't get rid of the oil. ... So by getting rid of that, having another market for that oil, there is no limit in how many soybeans you can grow."