I thought the development of biodiesel was relatively new. However, during a presentation at the Northern Illinois Farm Show I learned that in 1900, a diesel engine was run on 100 percent peanut oil with no refining.

Throughout the years, diesel fuel has gone through several changes since it became available in 1920 as high-sulfur diesel fuel that was made from crude oil. At that time, the fuel contained 5,000 parts per million of sulfur.

Low-sulfur diesel fuel, with 500 ppm of sulfur, became available in 1993, said Mark Johnson, with MEG Corp., a fuel-consulting business based in Plymouth, Minn. In 2006, ultra low-sulfur diesel with 15 ppm of sulfur was introduced to the market.

With the high demand for crude oil in the U.S., the need to find another source of fuel led to the development of biodiesel, which became commercially available in 1998.

“The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population, but we use 20 percent of the world’s crude oil,” Johnson noted. “Crude oil is not used just for transportation fuel — many products are made from oil.”

“Biodiesel has the highest energy balance of any fuel at 5.5 to 1,” he said. “That means for every one unit of energy spent to make biodiesel, it creates 5.5 units.”

In 2011, Johnson said, 1 billion gallons of biodiesel were produced in the U.S., and the following year, the production increased to 1.18 billion gallons.

“In 2013, production increased to 1.28 billion gallons,” he said.

The vision is to replace 5 percent of the nation’s diesel with fuel made from renewable resources by 2015.

“The U.S. uses about 60 billion gallons of diesel fuel, so 5 percent would be 3 billion gallons, and we’re probably not going to get there by 2015,” Johnson said.

Several biodiesel blends are available, including B2, B5, B11 and B20.

“A B20 biodiesel fuel will consist of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel,” Johnson explained.

In 2013, he said, 55 percent of the 1.28 billion gallons of biodiesel was made from soybean oil.

“According to a study, biodiesel adds 73 cents of value to each bushel of soybeans,” he reported. “That’s a value of $35 per acre,”

During the presentation, Johnson talked about several benefits of blending biodiesel with ultra low-sulfur diesel.

“A biodiesel blend is compatible with everything you’ve got,” he said. “The tanks, hoses, seals, gaskets — all the equipment you have now all works.”

In addition, a biodiesel blend greatly enhances the lubricity of ultra low-sulfur diesel, it reduces harmful emissions, the power and performance of the engine is virtually unchanged and it is renewable and non-toxic.

“Illinois drivers receive a 6.25 percent sales tax relief for fuel that is higher than B10 — that’s why we have a B11 blend,” Johnson explained. “Iowa also has a tax incentive, and Minnesota has a B5 mandate and that state is going to B10 on June 1 for the summer months.”

Sounds like it is a good idea for farmers to use biodiesel for all their diesel-engine-powered vehicles and equipment, especially since the fuel is adding value to the soybeans they grow. I wonder how many farmers will make the move now that they have more facts for that decision.