In 1829, U.S. farmers grew soybeans for the first time, cultivating a variety for use in soy sauce. During the Civil War, soldiers brewed soybeans as “coffee berries” when real coffee was scarce. In the late 1800s, significant numbers of farmers began to grow soybeans as forage for cattle. In 1904, at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, George Washington Carver began studying the soybean. His discoveries changed the way people thought about the soybean. No longer was it just a forage crop; now soybeans provided valuable protein and oil. Ah, the oil…Did you know that soybean oil and yellow grease, made from cooking oil, are the most popular sources for an alternative fuel source. How was their use for this capacity discovered?
According to pitGuru.com, fueling diesel engines with vegetable oil started with the inventor Rudolf Diesel. When Diesel showed his engine at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, it was running solely on peanut oil.
However, over the next 100 years, diesel fuel was made largely from resources that were not biodegradable. Interest was renewed in biodiesel in the mid-1970s when the energy shortage occurred, and gas prices surged upward throughout the United States. In spite of these conditions, commercial production did not take place until much later. In 1999, The National Biodiesel Board reported that 500,000 gallons, or 32.6 barrels, per day were produced. In 2000, production increased to 6.7 million gallons, or 437 barrels, per day of biodiesel.
With the continual rising costs of petroleum products in the new century, major corporations and the United States government have looked to new markets. Farmers, able to grow soybeans in their fields, have been given a boost as the demand for soybean fuelincreases. Farmers can now get several gallons of fuel per acre of soybean.
How Fuel is Converted
Biodiesel is created by removing glycerin from soybean oil. The United Soybean Board terms it this way: Biodiesel is a mono-alkyl oxygenated fuel made from soybean or other vegetable oils or animal fats. Biodiesel is registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency as a pure fuel or as a fuel additive. This fuel may be one of the following:
- A pure non-petroleum alternative fuel, which is known as B100.
- A combination of petroleum-based diesel fuel and biodiesel. In some areas this is called B20, a blend of 20 percent soy and 80 percent petroleum-based diesel.
The benefits of soybean fuel are many.
Why use biodiesel fuel? Studies have shown that biodiesel from virgin vegetable oil reduces carbon dioxide emissions and petroleum consumption when used in place of petroleum diesel. When B100 in urban transit buses is used, the result is a reduction of net carbon dioxide emissions by 78.45 percent.
In addition, the use of biodiesel reduces CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. This is due to the fact that growing soybeans consumes nearly four times as much CO2 as the amount of CO2 produced from biodiesel exhaust.
If you ever want to take a ride in a car or bus powered by soybeans, you can. The Agriculture Research Center (ARS ) National Visitor Center bus, which is used for Beltsville, Maryland farm tours, is running on biodiesel fuel. It was the first ARS vehicle to fill-up on soybean-based fuel.
ARS scientists are conducting biodiesel fuel research at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, and the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois. They are trying to find ways to make fuel and other products from vegetable oils, animal fats, greases, and used restaurant oils.Are there disadvantages to using biofuels?Biodiesel fuel costs more than regular diesel fuel. But, the price may drop if people use it more.– By Tara Weaver-Missick, Agricultural Research Service, and Don Comis, ARS Information Staff.
How can it be purchased?
Sometimes the average consumer has trouble locating a distributor of soybean fuel and finding places to purchase biodiesel. The online site, Soygold, has a variety of products you can purchase including converters, so that your vehicles can use this clean alternative fuel.
What Can We Learn From Soybean Fuel History
As we gain knowledge from soybean fuel history, we can look to the future with hope that clean, renewable, and efficient fuel sources will continue to be widespread in the United States and around the world. By using soybean fuel, we know that we can become less dependent on foreign petroleum.
However, the cost has to be considered. Help is needed to bring the cost of this vegetable fuel down to a price that is competitive with petroleum. One drawback is that biodiesel made from soybeans costs a significant amount to produce in large quantities. Currently, blending it with additives may be the most cost-effective.