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Posted on  

May 15, 2003

Delaware farmers hope biodiesel will fuel ag economy

Associated Press Writer

DOVER, Del. - Farmers in Delaware are looking hopefully toward biodiesel as a way to expand the market for their soybeans.

A $60,000 federal grant is being used to study the feasibility of building a biodiesel production plant in Delaware, where soybeans, the most common ingredient in biodiesel, are the top agricultural crop.

"It is an industry that's just getting started," said Marty Ross of Delmar, a soybean farmer and chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Biodiesel Exploratory Committee, the group leading the charge for a biodiesel production plant.

Ross also is a member of a state energy task force subcommittee recommending the mandatory blending of biodiesel with conventional diesel fuel sold in Delaware.

Biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative fuel made from animal fat or vegetable oil -- anything from used restaurant grease to virgin soybean oil. Glycerin is removed from the fat or oil and the resulting methyl esters are used for biodiesel, while the glycerin is sold for use in drugs, cosmetics and other products.

Nationwide, sales of biodiesel have soared from about 500,000 gallons in 1999 to an estimated 15 million gallons last year, said Joe Jobe, executive director of the National Biodiesel Board in Jefferson City, Mo.

Jobe noted that low-percentage blends of biodiesel and conventional diesel fuel can be used in virtually all diesel applications, from trucks to farm equipment to boats, with no engine modifications.

"The single biggest challenge is education," he added. "Biodiesel is still not a household world."

Unlike conventional diesel fuel, biodiesel contains no sulfur or petroleum, meaning it burns much cleaner and reduces emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulates. Its high lubricity improves engine life, and the exhaust is far less noxious than the oily, black smoke often seen trailing behind diesel vehicles.

Biodiesel fans also tout it as a domestic resource that can help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Currently, there are about 20 biodiesel producers registered with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. That number may grow if Congress approves a reduction in the diesel fuel excise tax when biodiesel is blended with petroleum diesel, making biodiesel competitive on price, Jobe said.

Delaware soybean farmers have struggled in recent years. Following last year's drought, they harvested about 4.6 million bushels of soybeans, down from 7 million bushels in 2001 and well below the record high of 9.2 million bushels in 2000.

Advocates believe a biodiesel plant in Delaware could help boost soybean prices. They also say it would complement the region's poultry industry, which uses soybean meal for livestock feed and might even supply animal fat for biodiesel production.

A report from a state energy task force subcommittee last month called for legislation requiring conventional diesel fuels sold in Delaware to contain 2 percent biodiesel, a blend known as B2. The subcommittee also called on the General Assembly to recognize biodiesel in state law for tax purposes, and for the governor to require B20 -- a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel -- in state vehicles.

A spokesman said Gov. Ruth Ann Minner would consider it.

"It's not only good for the environment, but it's good for Delaware farmers," Minner spokesman Greg Patterson said.

Currently, state fleets, including those of the agriculture, natural resources and transportation departments, are the largest users of biodiesel in Delaware. Biodiesel pumps aren't yet widely available to the public, with the first two opening just this year.



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