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Biodiesel embraced by marine industry

The fuel offers an instant carbon reduction; state legislation is pending to incentivize biofuels.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

October 26, 2023

6 Slides

Some types of transportation pose more challenges in the conversion to electric power than others. The marine industry is one. President Joe Biden has set an ambitious U.S. goal of achieving a net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.

While it’s not zero carbon reduction, biodiesel is an instant carbon reduction that’s available now.

“If you’re using 100% biodiesel, it would be a 75% carbon reduction, while at a 20% blend, which is what is proposed for most fleets, it’s a 15% carbon reduction,” said Pete Probst, president of Indigenous Energy and director of the Michigan Advanced Biodiesel Coalition (MiABC), which was formed in 2022 to represent farmers, soybean crushers, biodiesel producers, distributors and end users.

Probst used an analogy of a “mouse trying to eat an elephant … the only way you’re going to do that is one bite at a time,” to meet Michigan’s long-term emission-reduction goals.

“Biodiesel is an immediate solution we can implement locally to take a bite out of the problem,” he said, encouraging Michigan communities to invest in renewable energy sources such as biodiesel. “Biodiesel burns cleaner and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, making it a win-win.”

Probst was one of several speakers on a summer boat tour highlighting the successes of biodiesel in Michigan and the opportunities to expand it. “Biodiesel offers cleaner air, lower carbon emissions and because it’s an agricultural product, it benefits farmers and the fuel supply chain by being able to keep that fuel production in house,” he added.

The tour was attended by state legislators, city officials, media and other stakeholders. It was hosted by MiABC, in partnership with Michigan Clean Cities (MICC) and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, and sponsored by Warner Petroleum Corp.

Statewide effort

While the event was aimed at the greater Detroit area and waterways, the push for more biodiesel is statewide.

Tour speakers called for state incentives to support infrastructure for biodiesel production and distribution. While other states such as Iowa, Illinois and Missouri have various sales and income tax credits for biodiesel producers and retailers, Michigan has only an alternative Fuel Development Property Tax Exemption.

State Rep. John Fitzgerald, D-Wyoming, recently introduced a bill to provide financial incentives for the production and sale of biodiesel to reduce emissions from trucks, buses, marine vessels and other diesel-powered equipment.

Fitzgerald spoke in support of biodiesel as a tool to “bridge the gap” to reach zero emissions by 2050. “Biodiesel will make a difference,” he said. “Producing and using more biodiesel can both improve the economy and reduce our carbon footprint in Michigan.”

Funding available

Although state legislation is pending, certain incentives and grants are already available to Michigan fleets and communities interested in reducing emissions, said Maggie Striz Calnin, MICC director, who spoke about various funding channels for adoption of biodiesel, renewable diesel and other clean-fuel solutions.

The Detroit Wayne County Port Authority is developing a plan to decarbonize port operations of all marine terminals in the Detroit area, with a goal of net zero by 2040.

To take initial steps, Robert Moorcroft, carbon reduction scientist with Tunley Engineering, explained how his company is using federal funding to engage terminal operators, including 20 private businesses as well as government entities to gather data on carbon emissions for the moving and transport of goods within Wayne County. He hopes to devise a plan by the end of March 2024.

Moorcroft, with a team of decarbonization consultants, are producing a data template for terminals to fill out to calibrate greenhouse gas emissions. “If you are ahead of the game or at least in the game, you could be bringing more and more business to your operation,” he says. “If you’re not decarbonizing, there is a risk you will lose business.”

Warner Petroleum is on the leading edge of decarbonization by offering biodiesel at terminals in Detroit and Dearborn, operated by its sister company, Waterfront Petroleum Terminal Co. It is in a $22.9 million partnership with the port to improve efficiency of Great Lakes shipping, bring construction jobs and increase economic development in the region.

The port authority received a $16 million federal grant to fund port improvements, and Waterfront Petroleum Terminal Co. will invest an additional $6.9 million in the project.

Future opportunities

The U.S. burns 52 billion gallons of diesel each year with 4% blended with biodiesel, said Probst, who also noted that while Michigan is a relatively small player, it has two biodiesel plants producing about 15 million gallons of fuel annually.

One of Michigan’s biodiesel plants, Thumb Bioenergy, formed in 2009, collects used cooking oil from more than 800 restaurants across the state to produce biodiesel. The other plant, W2 Fuel in Adrian, uses soybean oil.

Alex Ritter of Thumb Bioenergy in Sandusky, Mich., says only about 25% of the biodiesel the plant produces stays in Michigan. The rest is shipped to the West Coast.

“It would be nice to have some supporting legislation to help keep that product in-state,” he says. “Farmers produce soybeans to make oil, restaurants use it to cook, used oil is turned into biodiesel, which then can power transportation and farm equipment to grow more soybeans — it’s full circle.”

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About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

Jennifer was hired as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, and in 2015, she began serving a dual role as editor of Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer. Both those publications are now online only, while the print version is American Agriculturist, which covers Michigan, Ohio, the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic. She is the co-editor with Chris Torres.

Prior to joining Farm Progress, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan, and as director of communications with the Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her resume.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003. She has won numerous writing and photography awards through that organization, which named her a Master Writer in 2006 and Writer of Merit in 2017.

She is a board member for the Michigan 4-H Foundation, Clinton County Conservation District and Barn Believers.

Jennifer and her husband, Chris, live in St. Johns, Mich., and collectively have five grown children and four grandchildren.

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