Biodiesel may be the fuel of the future

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

NATCHEZ &045;&045; The opportunities and the payoffs seem endless, but it’s the timing that had a group of Mississippi and Louisiana farmers worried at Wednesday’s agriculture meeting on biodiesel fuels.

The meeting, sponsored by Ferriday’s Agricultural Commodities Economic Development, Inc., featured Mark Zappi, the director of the Universities’ Consortium for Bio-energy Research. Zappi walked the group of about 20 interested in agriculture through the creation of biodiesel fuels, the sales potential and the possible problems.

&uot;We’ve become almost exclusively dependent on petroleum,&uot; Zappi said of the country. &uot;We are going to run out eventually and we are going to have to eventually gravitate away from petroleum.&uot;

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Zappi said fuels produced from the oil of soybeans, corns, cottons and other vegetables would likely become a petroleum displacement.

Zappi used slides to show when the biodiesel fuel market would be best, but could not put dates on when farmers should buy into the fuels production.

He said Mississippi and especially Louisiana have the greatest potential for bio-energy fuels based on the crops grown in the states.

Biodiesels are made from plant oils, animal fats, a base and ethyl or methyl alcohol and provide a more environmental friendly fuel that Zappi said major oil companies are interested in.

ACED began studying alternatives for the soybean, and other crops, last year when the received a $17,350 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of locating an extraction plant in the area to remove the oils.

Clint Vegas, who recently attended the national biodiesel conference, also spoke to the group.

&uot;I wasn’t lucky enough to be in the gold rush in California, but I think I may have a sense of the feel of it,&uot; Vegas said. &uot;Right now there’s a total productivity out there of 150 million gallons. Twenty million are being bought.&uot;

Vegas stressed that at this point the biodiesel market was a confusing one with a lot unknowns and few regulations.

&uot;It’s an industry that is so young that the world is wide open,&uot; Vegas said. &uot;I see this opportunity, but I also see lots of people losing money.&uot;