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Studies show wintertime reliability of biodiesel

This winter's arctic grip on many parts of the country confirms what soybean checkoff-funded studies have demonstrated numerous times in the past — that diesel users can depend on soy biodiesel even in severely cold weather.

“I use soy biodiesel in my diesel-powered pickup to travel and in my tractor to move snow on my farm,” says United Soybean Board (USB) Chairman David Durham, a soybean farmer from Hardin, Mo.

“This harsh winter proves once again that farmers, ranchers, truckers and other diesel users can depend on soy biodiesel year-round.”

The northwest Missouri farmer uses the common B2 blend of soy biodiesel on his farm. B2 is a mix of 2 percent soy biodiesel and 98 percent petroleum diesel. Yet many vehicle fleet operators in even colder climates find B20, a 20 percent blend of soy biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel, performs just as well in cold weather.

“The soybean checkoff has allowed soy biodiesel to be one of the most tested of all renewable fuels,” says Durham. “State and national soybean checkoff investments have verified that low-level blends of soy biodiesel have no measurable difference in cold-flow properties than standard petroleum diesel.

“Plus, our engines get the fuel lubricity and the environment obtains clean air benefits that soy biodiesel provides.”

The Center for Diesel Research at the University of Minnesota confirms what Durham and other soy biodiesel users have found. The Center recently completed studies of new diesel additives that lowered the gel point of B20 to 50 degrees below zero.

“Many people are not aware that cold-flow improvers are already in most diesel during the winter,” says Kelly Strebig, a research engineer at the Minneapolis-based Center for Diesel Research. “The same procedures and products that keep diesel from gelling typically work well for B20.”

Some of the most enthusiastic soy biodiesel users operate in some of the most frigid climates. For example, Voyageurs National Park in International Falls, Minn., has used B20 successfully through three winters. The ski resort town of Breckenridge, Colo., now uses B20 in buses and snowplows.

For several days this winter, subzero windchill temperatures have even gripped Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, where B20 is used in diesel-powered aircraft rescue equipment, fire engines and snow blowers.

“Biodiesel has never let us down,” says Frank Williams, fleet maintenance foreman at the St. Louis airport. “I don't know of an operation where reliability is more critical for snow removal and emergency response than an international airport.”

In addition to funding soy biodiesel research for more than a decade, the soybean checkoff recently launched a major initiative to encourage more farmers and ranchers to use soy biodiesel. A survey conducted last fall found only 23 percent of U.S. soybean farmers use soy biodiesel.

“This winter, soybean farmers need to ask their fuel supplier to carry soy biodiesel,” says Durham. “Second, we need to use it on our farms. We must show by example so we can further expand the use of soy biodiesel into other sectors.”

Agriculture is the second-largest diesel-using sector in the United States. Only truckers and other on-road diesel users burn more. Federal government statistics show if every farmer and rancher used just B2, the equivalent of more than 50 million bushels of U.S. soybeans could be used annually.

USB is made up of 61 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.

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