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Energy Efficiency

Wisconsin City Sources Biofuel From Local Farmers

Photo Courtesy of Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board

The city of Madison, Wisconsin is taking the age old advice to “eat your vegetables” to a whole new level. The Badger State’s capital city is known for a lot, but its most recent headline-grabber comes from soybean farmers. 

The Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board announced that they will be investing funds to the City of Madison to allow a modest fleet of 20 city-owned vehicles to operate on biodiesel. The agreement was released in tandem with the National Biodiesel Board. 

The number may not seem like a substantial investment, but the step forward it represents for a cleaner and more reliable energy source is significant. While biodiesel is not entirely composed of soybeans or their byproducts, they are a substantial component, making Madison a fantastic place to get the “bean” rolling. 

Soy is a popular commodity for human consumption. It is usually marketed as “canola oil” or “vegetable oil,” but it’s also used for livestock, which is the largest consumer of soybean goods. 

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The often-overlooked soybean industry is one of Wisconsin’s greatest market contributions both domestically and internationally. While most people associate the state with cheese, it is among the top 15 soybean-producing states in the country, and the majority of the companies responsible for growing and harvesting soy are family-owned and operated. Wisconsin’s economic success in harvesting soy has allowed the industry to devote monetary assistance to local municipalities. 

Biodiesel is a highly popular alternative to petroleum diesel for two reasons: it burns cleaner than traditional diesel and it does not require a crude oil reserve to make. While it has always been popular with the eco-conscious crowd, the benefits have become more pronounced recently as the transition towards clean energy sweeps the nation. 

“Demand continues to grow for domestic, renewable, low-carbon fuel,” says Jonathan Gibbs, a Wisconsin-based soybean farmer, told local news sources, “[and] Wisconsin soybean farmers are answering the call.” 

The agreement between the selected soybean farmers and the City of Madison supplies the capital city with the excess soy content that would otherwise be discarded, giving local farmers extra revenue and providing additional job security domestically. Private financial firm StoneX estimated that pushing excess soybeans towards biodiesel production adds 13 percent revenue to the commodity’s cash value, bringing it up to about $1.87 per bushel. The agreement also allows the city to make strides in low-carbon energy alternatives without outsourcing to larger companies or overseas corporations to do so. “The relationship between soy and biodiesel is a win-win,” states Donald Rehagen, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board. Rehagen added that the soybean oil’s largest growing customer in the past decade has been organizations producing biodiesel (the largest consistent customer remains livestock feed manufacturers). 

Vehicles powered by sustainable energy sources will not run solely on biodiesel, and that is an important distinction. Rather, their primary energy source (traditional diesel) will be supplemented by a reserve of biodiesel when the engine reaches a certain temperature. 

The source-switching technology is not novel, and is already employed by Wisconsin and states across the country. However, the current mechanism switches to a B5 fuel, a 5 percent biofuel composite. The new system will switch the upgrade fleets’ source to a B100 fuel, a 100 percent biodiesel substance. The B100 fuel (when at the aforementioned temperature) burns cleaner and reduces lifecycle greenhouses gases by 89 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by 67 percent compared to petroleum-based fuels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The program is undoubtedly ahead of the curve when it comes to municipalities sourcing clean energy supplementation locally. This combination of reliability and local economic stimulus appears to benefit for all parties involved. 

“The City of Madison is eager to put more vehicles on the road that reduce carbon emissions,” Madison Wisconsin’s Fleet Superintendent commented in a press release, “and 2021 is the year we’ll start to have some B100 year-round for the first time ever.”

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

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