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Soy biodiesel gives bigger energy bang than ethanol

Agriculture.com Staff 01/27/2006 @ 10:23am

Ethanol from corn may get more headlines, but biodiesel from soybean oil may actually give more bang for the buck, say advocates of the biodiesel industry.

Speaking Thursday before a group of Iowa business leaders, the CEO of West Central Cooperative in Ralston, Iowa, told of the value-added benefits of the soybean processing plant his co-op operates. Jeff Stroburg quoted USDA statistics that say biodiesel has a stronger energy balance than either ethanol or straight petroleum fuel.

Those numbers say that for every unit of energy it takes to make biodiesel, there are 3.4 units of energy produced. The comparable efficiency factor for ethanol is about 1.6; for petroleum, only .88 units of energy come from each unit of energy invested.

Stroburg's co-op is one of the largest in Iowa. It has 3,500 farmer owners, $400 million in annual sales, and handles 72 million bushels of grain a year. As a value-added venture, it invested in soybean processing facilities several years ago, and now has become the biggest marketer of soy-based biodiesel in the world.

It producers 12 million gallons of biodiesel, from 9 million bushels of soybeans, a year in Ralston. It also has ownership and/or marketing interests in two other biodiesel plants, in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and Cincinnati, Ohio, with 60 million gallons of capacity total.

West Central is also a huge producer of soybean meal, the other product that results from soybean processing. It will turn it into about 230,000 tons of concentrated feed this year, most going into the dairy industry.

Stroburg listed 5 reasons why soybean-based biodiesel is a great investment for farmers, and for the U.S. in general:

Reduced exhaust emissions. There are several impurities in diesel fuel exhaust that can be reduced by adding a percentage of biodiesel. "For instance," says Stroburg, "a 20% biodiesel blend can lower carbon dioxide emissions by 50%."

Operational benefits. A biodiesel blend of as little as 2% can provide 66% greater engine lubricity, adding to longer engine and fuel injector life.

Energy balance. The numbers quoted above, plus the current relationship between soybean prices and soybean oil prices, make soy-based biodiesel a good value for farmers and consumers.

Expanded use of soybeans. Each bushel of soybeans can yield 1.4 gallons of biodiesel, plus about 50 pounds of soybean meal.

The nation's energy goals."Every gallon of energy products like biodiesel and ethanol we can produce moves us just one step closer to energy independence," Stroburg says.

The farmer-owners of West Central benefit from the investment in soybean processing primarily through the dividends they earn for their membership and business they do with the co-op. Last year, the dividend was about 7.5 cents per bushel of grain sold to the co-op, and the biggest share of that was due to the soybean processing operations, says Stroburg.

Ethanol from corn may get more headlines, but biodiesel from soybean oil may actually give more bang for the buck, say advocates of the biodiesel industry.

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