This article was originally published in the January issue of Soy Perspectives magazine.

Illinois soybean farmers commonly are aware of numerous benefits that biodiesel provides versus petroleum diesel; reliable engine performance, cost effectiveness, fewer harmful emissions and a lower carbon footprint. But what farmers may not realize is new business prospects may exist if they focus on the value of carbon reduction to further build the industry.

“A misconception about the value of carbon reduction exists within agriculture. But farmers can change the paradigm by more aggressively participating in the debate,” says Rebecca Richardson, Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) biodiesel lead. “Those who can sequester carbon should not only be doing so but should begin looking into ways to quantify it. Carbon sequestration could find its way into a future farm bill much like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) evolved into an opportunity for farmers.”

In addition to benefitting from carbon sequestration for producing soybeans for biodiesel, these same farmers could profit through increased production and nationwide demand for biodiesel.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says U.S. biodiesel production climbed 18.6 percent from 2016 to 2018, or from 102,000 barrels per day to a record 121,000 barrels per day. EIA estimates production this year could increase to as much as 156,000 barrels per day.

Rebecca richardson“There already are Low-Carbon Fuel Standards on the West Coast. The East Coast is also developing renewable portfolio standards to generate electricity from energy lower in carbon, including renewable fuels,” says Richardson. “Farmers and the biodiesel industry should promote that biodiesel stores solar energy. That’s what makes it a powerful tool to reduce carbon. Biodiesel displaces fossil carbon emissions and complements other renewable sources.”

Best Option Out There

EIA considers biodiesel to be carbon neutral. “Plants used as feedstocks for making biodiesel, such as soybeans, absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) as they grow. Absorption of CO2 by the plants offsets the CO2 that forms while making and burning biodiesel,” the agency notes.

Don Scott, director of sustainability for the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), agrees. “Biodiesel is the best carbon reduction tool of any commercial liquid fuel. U.S. biodiesel reduces lifecycle carbon emissions, on average, 80 percent compared to petroleum diesel,” he says. “Biodiesel also cuts particulate matter and carbon monoxide from tailpipe emissions and offers health benefits by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Biodiesel displaces more than 20 million metric tons of CO2 nationwide annually.”

In fact, Scott says using biodiesel is one of the most effective ways to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the market today. While transportation specialists on the East Coast, for example, are exploring electric vehicle technology, using biodiesel right now in existing diesel vehicles would give them immediate carbon reduction results. California statistics show electric vehicle use in that state only reduced CO2 in 2018 by 1.2 million tons; one-third of the state’s diesel biofuel reductions. The U.S. transportation sector is the largest GHG emissions contributor.

“Biodiesel is ready to displace more petroleum immediately without having to wait for new technology. It is commercially viable today,” says Scott. “Installed biodiesel plant capacity is available, and soybeans could be one of the big players in meeting increased demand.”

GHG emissions remain a flashpoint in environmental discussions, which Scott anticipates could spark more cities and fleets nationwide to use biodiesel. He also is aware of budding discussion seeking to compensate farmers for carbon reduction.

“Farmers control a lot of land. They have a role in managing carbon. And while they may be worried about additional regulations, they can have a voice in how they are compensated,” says Scott. “It is a business opportunity. Farmers should be seen as part of the solution.”

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About the Author: Barb Baylor Anderson

Barb Baylor Anderson specializes in writing and public relations, and has assisted clients with branding, strategy development, media relations, audio/visual communications, event planning and economic analysis. She is a contributing writer to several publications, and coordinates marketing communications projects for trade associations and other non-profits, small business and agricultural companies.