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An education in biodiesel

As biofuels continue to garner interest and support within the agricultural industry...


February 16, 2008
By Jeanine Moyer*

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As biofuels continue to garner interest and support within the agricultural industry, many farmers who produce oilseed crops are at the centre of an exciting and evolving industry. Not only are farmers responsible for producing the soybeans to make biodiesel, but many are investigating ways in which they can add value to their crops by producing their own biodiesel. Throughout the month of November, farmers across Ontario had the opportunity to learn first-hand the science, methods and process of turning their soybeans into fuel.

 8a
 Biodiesel production process.

A series of biodiesel short courses sponsored by Ontario Soybean Growers (OSG), Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) and the Agricultural Adaptation Council was offered to farmers. The short courses featured a hands-on approach where participants observed and participated in the various stages of the production of biodiesel, even making their own batch.

The course was led by Dr. Rex Newkirk, CIGI Director of Biofuels and Feed, who travelled to Ontario with a trailer outfitted to house the equipment necessary for the production of biodiesel. Completely self contained, the biodiesel trailer does not require any outside source of power to operate. The trailer features an oilseed expeller to squeeze oil out of the soybean or canola, reaction and wash tanks, a resin filtration system to wash the biodiesel, a heater and generator that run on biodiesel and a methanol recovery system used in the production of the biodiesel.

“This is a unique opportunity to show producers how they can maximize the value of their oilseed crops and grow a product suitable for the expanding biodiesel market,” says Newkirk. Participants took part in each step of the biodiesel production process and learned not only how to make biodiesel but how to add value to their own crops by discussing various aspects of plant design and the economics of biodiesel.

 8b
 Making diesel.

Adding increased value and providing opportunities like the biodiesel course to soybean growers is part of the OSG mission statement, guiding the organization towards a viable and profitable industry. Ontario soybean production represents approximately 80 percent of total Canadian soybean production. More than 2.1 million soybean acres were planted in Ontario in 2006, with an average yield of 46 bushels per acre (1.25 tonnes per acre). Total soybean production for 2006 was approximately 98 million bushels (2.67 million tonnes). In 2006, Ontario soybeans averaged 21.4 percent oil, making the crop a natural choice for biodiesel production. Soybeans are the largest source of oil produced from agricultural crops in Ontario; the 2006 crop resulted in 618 million litres of soybean oil.

In the past, soybean markets have been driven by the value of soybean meal used for animal feed, however, the soybean market now has the added influence of biofuels. With the constant fluctuation of petroleum prices, a trend has formed and more are turning to biofuels as an alternative. Looking
forward, Ontario could see an increase in biodiesel production as demand for renewable fuels grows.

“We expect to see an increase of biodiesel production of various scales,” says Crosby Devitt, Research Manager, Ontario Soybean Growers. “Small groups of farmers are interested in knowing that biodiesel production is one way to diversify their farming operations and increase on-farm value.” In addition to the biodiesel short courses, OSG participates in policy development, government relations and communications towards the development of the biodiesel industry. -end-

*Jeanine Moyer is Communications Co-ordinator for the Ontario Soybean Growers in Guelph, Ontario.