HARTINGTON, Neb. — Soybean growers are optimism about the future of biodiesel.
A move toward cleaner energy sources bodes well for renewable sources, and soybeans are a vital component.
“Biodiesel goes in a lot of things,” said Ed Lammers, who was the United Soybean Board’s oil target coordinator in 2021. “Anything we can do to lessen our demand from overseas oil production and convert it to biodiesel is good for the whole nation .”
Particularly promising is SAF, or sustainable aviation fuel, something that is gaining favor. Even oil producer British Petroleum touts its benefits.
“SAF gives an impressive reduction of up to 80% in carbon emissions over the lifecycle of the fuel compared to traditional jet fuel it replaces, depending on the sustainable feedstock used, production method and supply chain to the airport,” the company said on its website.
Shell and other oil companies are also getting on the bandwagon. One barrier is cost, as SAF is more expensive than petroleum-based aviation fuel. The benefits to the environment and health are proven.
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“We’re finding out through studies that there is a large health benefit to using biodiesel,” said Lammers, who farms near Hartington in northeast Nebraska. “You can go to 50% blends and reduce carbon 60% to 70%. That has a huge health advantage.”
A 2021 study in which the National Biodiesel Board partnered with Trinity Consultants found that use of B100 could save lives and increase productivity. The study, which looked at 13 communities in the US, said cleaner fuels could reduce instances of cancer and asthma while also cutting down on sick days for employees.
So-called renewable diesel may hold even more promise. It has the same chemical formulation as petroleum-based diesel, according to John Jansen, USB’s vice president of strategic partnerships.
“It’s a one-for-one replacement,” Jansen said. “It’s a lot easier to track. You can make pretty dramatic improvements in greenhouse gas reduction.”
Renewable diesel cannot be used as aviation fuel, however.
Another promising product is PoreShield, a soy-based concrete sealant that protects bridges, roadways and other surfaces from the effects of freezing rain and snow. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by President Biden last year could be a boon for soybean-based products such as PoreShield.
“The infrastructure bill is quite broad,” Lammers said. “Anything we can do to reduce our demand from overseas oil production and convert it to biodiesel — a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and renewable resource — is good for the whole nation. We’re hopeful they’ll use this surface treatment that is a great replacement for petroleum-based products.”
Jansen also believes the push for soy-based products will drive the industry over the next several years.
“There’s no doubt that there is a desire by this administration to ramp up these renewables,” he said. “You’re mitigating 74% of greenhouse gas emissions for every gallon of petroleum you replace.”
Demand for biodiesel is driving expansion of processing. Nine new integrated crusher-refiners are under construction, which will add 15% to North American crush and refining by 2024, according to Jansen.
“We’re moving as fast as the infrastructure can support it,” he said. “We’re running 93% of processors’ ability to produce soybean oil to meet renewable standards.”
“We’re going to have a few bottlenecks in the production, but we’re going to get there,” he said.
Analysts expect US farmers to expand soybean acres by 5% at the expense of corn this year. Though much of that increase will likely come because of high fertilizer prices, new uses of beans are also driving increased supply.
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