There's an underutilized wealth of resources in the brown, dry fields of soybeans so prevalent in the Midwest. Increasingly, the soybean is not just a source of protein in tofu and milk substitutes; it's also the basis of an alternative, renewable fuel and lubricant choice that can help conserve fossil fuels, reduce pollutants in the environment and lessen our dependency on foreign oil. Park and recreation agencies, such as where I work, Metroparks of the Toledo Area, in Ohio, are discovering that soybeans provide an opportunity to take a leading role in committing to positive change.
Soybean-based fuel is called biodiesel. Although the product has been refined in processing in recent years, its basic premise isn't a new concept for the internal combustion engine. Rudolph Diesel developed the diesel engine in 1895 with the idea of creating an engine that could run on an alternative fuel source. In fact, at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, Diesel ran his engine on peanut oil. In 1991, Missouri soybean growers funded an experiment on this new energy source by having agricultural engineers run a pick-up truck year-round on biodiesel. The truck is still running today.
What is it? Biodiesel is created by removing glycerin from soybean oil. More specifically, as the United Soybean Board puts it, "Biodiesel is a mono-alkyl oxygenated fuel made from soybean or other vegetable oils or animal fats." The formulation may be pure non-petroleum alternative fuel (known as B100) or a combination of petroleum-based diesel fuel and biodiesel. In the greater Toledo area, the most common formulation is referred to as B20, which is a blend of 20 percent soy and 80 percent petroleum-based diesel.
Who's Driving This?
Is this simply a grand experiment funded by those who have a vested interest in the matter, such as the soybean industry? The study I've been doing over the past couple of years says no. Major fleets from New Jersey through the Midwest and on to the San Francisco Bay area are operating on biodiesel. Industry is making an investment in the future by recognizing the value of the product at a variety of levels. As noted, the product is fully renewable in U.S. farm fields. Historically, the main value in soybean production has been the protein component in the beans, which is approximately 82 percent of the plant, leaving the remaining 18 percent, the oil, in abundant supply.
Further, biodiesel presents an environmentally-friendly alternative to the pure petroleum-based culture we've become so accustomed to. Biodiesel has completed rigorous health effects testing under the requirements of the Clean Air Act. According to the United Soybean Board, "the results show that biodiesel reduces air toxins by 90 percent." Also noted are substantial reductions in unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter over pure petroleum-based diesel fuels. Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture lifecycle emissions studies have shown that biodiesel carbon dioxide emissions are 78 percent lower than those from petroleum-based diesel.
Biodiesel merits consideration as a cleaner-burning alternative to the normal fare of fuels we depend on to get our work done in park maintenance. The Environmental Protection Agency's rule to reduce sulfur content of on-road diesel--set to become effective in 2006--has raised concern over the loss of the lubricating properties of fossil diesel fuels. Research has shown that blending as little as e percent-biodiesel into petroleum diesel can increase lubricity by at least 65 percent.
Adding to these benefits are matters such as reduced dependency on foreign oils, boosting the U. S. economy by supporting the use of home-grown resources and setting an example for the long-term preservation of resources while servicing our fleets with products that can potentially extend the life-cycle efficiency. Moreover, biodiesel isn't the only soy-based lubricant alternative offered by the industry. …