The Big Deal About Biodiesel: Fueling Food Sustainability

GLADSTONE, Mo – Tues., Aug. 30, 2022 – The food industry is under increasing pressure to meet ambitious ESG commitments and while fuel throughout the supply chain is an important part of the equation, biodiesel is often overlooked as a renewable alternative. The benefits of biodiesel were on the agenda of a virtual roundtable discussion in August facilitated by The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) and sponsored by the United Soybean Board, that featured panelists and food and ag industry participants who learned more about the renewable fuel that more companies and municipalities are using to lower their carbon footprint.

“We transport up to 150,000 students every morning and afternoon, some with special needs, including respiratory issues, so we want to create an environment in and around the buses and schools that’s the greenest possible,” said John Benish, Jr., president and CEO of Cook-Illinois Corporation, a family owned and operated school bus company – the sixth largest in the nation – that started using biodiesel in its buses in 2005.

“It’s better for the environment, it’s better for the students, it’s better for the engines and doesn’t require any vehicle modifications,” he said. “There are a lot of advantages.”

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Made from renewable whole vegetable oil like soy, canola and corn, biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis relative to petroleum fuel by 74%, said Veronica Bradly, director of Environmental Science for Clean Fuels Alliance America. “It’s great for our planet, our economy, our communities and farmers.”

It’s also a cleaner burning fuel, said Bradley, who noted that the emissions have up to 45% lower particulate matter emissions depending on the fuel blend. The American Lung Association endorses biodiesel as a healthy fuel to limit respiratory disease.

new study on the air quality benefits of biodiesel in high-risk air quality communities in the U.S. shows that switching to biodiesel results in substantial health benefits including decreased cancer risk, fewer premature deaths, reduced asthma attacks and fewer lost workdays. The Trinity Consultants study found that replacing diesel fuel with biodiesel in Washington D.C. alone could reduce the symptoms of asthma by nearly 13,000 incidents per year and annual lost workdays could be reduced by almost 5,700, representing nearly $1.5 million in economic activity.

An additional benefit to using biofuel is that the crops used to produce it are grown much more sustainably today.

Crop farmers Ed Lammers of Hartington, Neb., and Nancy Kavazanjian, of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, spoke about their sustainable approaches, including planting cover crops, no-till practices, using solar and wind power, growing pollinator habitat and using variable rate seed and fertilizer that allows them to precisely plant in the most fertile soil and apply fertilizer only where needed.

“Overall, we’re using less fuel, less fertilizer and less equipment while producing more. That’s a real sustainability story,” said Lammers, who grows soybean and corn and raises cattle. He also uses biodiesel on the farm.

“Our crops take carbon out of the air. Then we can convert those crops into biodiesel that reduces the amount of carbon in vehicle fleets. It comes full circle and is really rewarding,” said Kavazanjian, who also grows soybeans and corn.

Bradley said demand for biodiesel is growing. In 2020, Clean Fuels Alliance America announced a goal to be a 6-billion-gallon industry by 2030. Currently, it’s a 3-billion-gallon industry. “I think demand will get us to our goal well before 2030,” she said.

She debunked the common myths that biodiesel it not high-quality fuel and that vehicles and equipment must be altered to use it. “Biodiesel is tested to make sure it meets specific qualifications and can run cleanly,” she said. “And it actually increases fuel economy, reduces emissions and provides better power output. Companies can improve their environmental footprint without any real extra capital investment.”

Benish, who uses B20 and B11 blends in his buses now, is a big fan of biodiesel and plans to move five buses to B100 in a pilot project this fall.

“I have to use fuel no matter what, so why not use a fuel that’s going to make the environment around the students and our schools better?” he said.

The roundtable was part of a project by CFI and the United Soybean Board to foster collaboration between the farmers and the food industry as both work toward a more sustainable future.

About United Soybean Board United Soybean Board’s 78 volunteer farmer-leaders work on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers to achieve maximum value for their soy checkoff investments. These volunteers create value by investing in research, education and promotion with the vision to deliver sustainable soy solutions to every life, every day across the three priority areas of Infrastructure & Connectivity, Health & Nutrition, and Innovation & Technology. As stipulated in the federal Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soy checkoff. For more information on the United Soybean Board, visit unitedsoybean.org.

About The Center for Food Integrity The Center for Food Integrity is a not-for-profit organization that helps today’s food system earn consumer trust. Our members and project partners are committed to providing accurate information and working together to address important issues in food and agriculture. The Center does not lobby or advocate for individual companies or brands. For more information, visit www.foodintegrity.org.