Farmers hang hopes on biodisel

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; If you ever find yourself sitting down to dinner with a soybean farmer, an environmentalist and a bureaucrat, ask about biodiesel.

The farmer relishes the burgeoning market for his beans, the environmentalist loves the reduced emissions and the government employee can&8217;t wait to get America out from under the yoke of foreign oil producers.

And with all three sides in agreement, the industry appears on the brink of booming.

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Biodiesel can be made from any type of oil or animal fat. The surplus of soybeans and their relatively high &8212; 20 percent

&8212; oil content and boiling point make it an ideal source of the fuel.

To make biodiesel, producers take feedstock oil, combine it with an amount of alcohol equal to 10 percent of the oil&8217;s weight and add a catalyst equal to one percent of the oil&8217;s weight.

The process yields an amount of biodiesel virtually identical in weight to the original oil. The by-product of the process, glycerin, is used in soap, among many other things, and is sold.

The resulting biodiesel is rated B100, meaning it is 100 percent pure. It is often mixed by producers with petroleum diesel and categorized by the percentage of biodiesel in the mixture.

B20 &8212; 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel &8212; is a popular blend that the Environmental Protection Agency has found to reduce emissions while being cost-effective.

Helping the fledgling industry keep its costs in line has been a priority for a government keen on exploring ways to gain independence from foreign oil producers.

The Bush administration&8217;s energy bill, passed into law Aug. 8, extends the biodiesel tax credit through 2008. The credit, which allows either the blender or the user &8212; depending on the circumstance &8212; to collect $1 for every gallon of biodiesel made from first-use oil.

The credit allows producers and marketers of the fuel to be price-competitive with their petroleum diesel counterparts.

The national tax credit is good for the budding industry as a whole, but individual states can help their own cause as well, Louisiana&8217;s only producer said.

Texas offers a statewide 20-cent tax credit on top of the national credit, giving its producers leverage in the interstate market.

Darrell Dubroc, whose Vanguard Systems biodiesel facility is scheduled to open in February, said he paid a call to a Louisiana fuel retailer to talk about supplying him.

The retailer currently buys out of Texas, and the state credit gives him a price Dubroc said he wouldn&8217;t be able to match.

&8220;Every time I try to compete, they&8217;ve got a 20-cent advantage on me,&8221; he said.

Dubroc said he hopes Louisiana will institute measures to level the playing field.

&8220;I&8217;m not betting all my marbles on it happening, but it&8217;d sure be nice,&8221; he said.

Having Willie Nelson on your side is nice, as well.

In 2004, the redheaded stranger himself got into the biodiesel business, partnering with four others to form the Willie Nelson Biodiesel Company. The B20 fuel the company manufactures and markets is call, naturally, BioWillie Diesel Fuel.

The company&8217;s Web site,, states the group&8217;s modest goals: helping reduce America&8217;s dependence on foreign oil, putting American farmers back to work and cleaning up the environment.

The Farm-Aid founder and friend to farmers everywhere told the Associated Press in an article archived on the site why he believes in biodiesel.

&8220;There is really no need going around starting wars over oil. We have it here at home. We have the necessary product, the farmers can grow it,&8221; Nelson said.