Farm Horizons, May 2003

Local drivers are using more biodiesel fuel

By Julie Yurek

Local diesel fuel suppliers are reporting an increase in drivers who are fueling up with biodiesel fuel in their diesel engines.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel that is nontoxic, reduces smog, and is biodegradable, among other things.

Of course, it boosts the production and demand for soybeans for farmers because it is comprised of two percent soybeans, which has been long noted by farmers.

Biodiesel contains no petroleum, is less toxic than table salt, and biodegrades as fast as sugar, according to the national Biodiesel Board.

Biodiesel can be used in any machine that uses regular diesel fuel, said Bob Lueck, petroleum sale manager at Mid-County Coop in Cologne.

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About 30 percent of their customers are asking for biodiesel, he said. "We have a lot of folks in Waverly asking for it."

"It's been pretty well received," he said.

The co-op has only been carrying the fuel for about one year, he said.

The Cenex store in Cologne also has a gas pump with biodiesel available so diesel cars, trucks, semis, or construction vehicles can fill up, Lueck said.

Users will not notice much difference in their vehicle's performance, he said. "It's not like a person is going to say, 'Wow, it has more power now.'"

"The fuel makes a difference internally," Lueck said. "Most of it occurs behind the scenes in the engine and the emissions. It's a great lubricating agent."

The co-op is a supplier of biodiesel because "we feel it is something that needs to be supported," Lueck said.

"It's good for the environment and for farming," he said. "It will create a better market for soybeans."

The more farmers asking for it, the more awareness of the fuel that will occur, he said.

A two percent blend of biodiesel, the most commonly used, is three cents higher than normal diesel, Lueck said.

"It's an amazing product," he said.

The two percent blend is safe for winter use, Lueck said. "There aren't problems if used in a proper fuel mix." The co-op mixes the fuel to whatever blend a customer wants, he said.

A 100 percent soy biodiesel will freeze, he said.

Even though the two percent biodiesel doesn't freeze, Mid-County won't offer it during the winter months until it is sure that there will not be problems in the winter, Lueck said. "We don't want someone's lines gumming up."

Lueck did hear that a study was being conducted at the University of Minnesota with a 20 percent blend of soy biodiesel that stays pliable until 35 to 40 degrees below zero, he said.

The use of biodiesel has grown dramatically during the last few years, according to the AFDC.

The Energy Policy Act was amended in 1998 to include biodiesel fuel as a way for federal, state, and public utility fleets to meet requirements for using alternative fuels.

That amendment started the sharp increase in biodiesel users, which include the US Postal Service and the US Departments of Energy and Agriculture.

Many school districts, transit authorities, national parks, public utility companies, and garbage and recycling companies also use the fuel, the AFDC said.

Commonly asked questions

The following are commonly asked questions about biodiesel, supplied by, the official site of the National Biodiesel Board.

How is biodiesel made?

Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products ­ methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin (a valuable byproduct usually sold to be used in soaps and other products).

It can be used in diesel engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.

Biodiesel can be made from new or used vegetable oils and animal fats, which are non-toxic, biodegradable, renewable resources, according to the alternative fuels data center (AFDC), which a part of the US Department of Energy.

Fats and oils are chemically reacted with an alcohol, usually methanol, to produce chemical compounds known as fatty acidmethyl esters, AFDC said.

Why should I use biodiesel?

Biodiesel is better for the environment because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel.

Do I need special storage facilities?

In general, the standard storage and handling procedures used for petroleum diesel can be used for biodiesel. The fuel should be stored in a clean, dry, dark environment. Acceptable storage tank materials include aluminum, steel, fluorinated polyethylene, fluorinated polypropylene and teflon. Copper, brass, lead, tin, and zinc should be avoided.

Can I use biodiesel in my existing diesel engine?

Biodiesel can be operated in any diesel engine with little or no modification to the engine or the fuel system.

Biodiesel has a solvent effect that may release deposits accumulated on tank walls and pipes from previous diesel fuel storage. The release of deposits may clog filters initially and precautions should be taken. Ensure that only fuel meeting the biodiesel specification is used.

How do biodiesel emissions compare to petroleum diesel?

Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act.

The use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine results in substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter compared to emissions from diesel fuel. In addition, the exhaust emissions of sulfur oxides and sulfates (major components of acid rain) from biodiesel are essentially eliminated compared to diesel.

Of the major exhaust pollutants, the use of biodiesel reduces smog.

Does biodiesel use void the warranty of farm equipment?

The use of biodiesel does not void the warranty of any major engine manufacturer.

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