SIKESTON -- Soybean diesel, or biodiesel, may be the alternative fuel right now, but the number of farmers opting for the American-made diesel is on the rise.
MFA Oil has been offering biodiesel since March, said David Dunlap, Southeast Missouri district sales manager for MFA. "We've really been pushing it," Dunlap said. "Several area farmers have requested it."
Biodiesel, a blend of soybean oil and diesel, can be found on all MFA Oil bulk plants. Non-attendent card pumps have been established in Kewanee, Dexter and Qulin, where those who have an MFA petroleum oil card can get biodiesel. By the end of next month, all major credit cards will be accepted at these pumps so the public can have access to the diesel, too, he added.
Dunlap believes biodiesel will continue to become more popular with farmers and become more widely used for two reasons. First, biodiesel helps cut back on pollution because it reduces emissions, and secondly, biodiesel reduces America's dependence on foreign oil, he explained.
Biodiesel can be made from any fat or vegetable oil, but soybean oil is a common component. Diesel cars and trucks run on blends of beef tallow or canola oil. They can also run on the recycled cooking grease oil that restaurants store in vats behind their kitchens. One bushel of soybeans makes one-and-a-half gallons of biodiesel.
Although biodiesel contains no petroleum, it can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. For example, B20 (20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel) has demonstrated significant environmental benefits with a minimum increase in cost for fleet operations and other consumers.
"I think it's great," said Tom Green, Sikeston farmer and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council member. "Soybean diesel was started by the Missouri Merchandising Council. Missouri was the first state to get behind it and it used check offs to explore the soybean diesel. I think all Missouri farmers should be proud of that."
According to the National Biodiesel Board, biodiesel decreases emissions to the environment, increases the lifespan of autos and trucks and it's non-toxic and non-hazardous to the environment.
In September, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that long-term exposure to diesel exhaust can cause lung cancer. Biodiesel can reduce cancer-causing compounds by 90 percent, according to the National Biodiesel Board.
"I don't think it's a product for all markets, but for niche markets like the environmentally concerned. Biodiesel can provide a product for environmentally sensitive areas," Green said.
Biodiesel provides many advantages, but there is one disadvantage. Biodiesel is more expensive than straight diesel. Biodiesel sells for a penny of every percentage. For example, if it's a two percent blend, it would cost two cents more than straight diesel.
However, the fuel alternative has been discussed in Congress, and the price could possibly be reduced in the future. Current biodiesel legislation includes a possible excise tax incentive.
"If the biodiesel legislation is passed by Congress -- and it could happen this week or next year -- the future of biodiesel could change dramatically," said Tom Verry, of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council. "And it would be a positive change."
For more information, visit www.biodiesel.org.