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Energy Independence: On Farm Biodiesel Fuel Production (video)

Text written by SARE

Roger Rainville is ahead of the curve when it comes to reducing costs on his farm near Alburgh, Vermont. He’s currently producing biodiesel for about $1.70 a gallon.

That savings, and his profit margin, are going to be even greater if energy and fuel prices continue to rise as they have been recently. Rainville first got interested in oilseed production when University of Vermont Extension approached him about growing canola seed on his farm. Initially, Rainville thought the canola could provide a good source of feed (canola meal) for his cows, with oil production simply a side-benefit. Over several years, however, Rainville’s thinking was transformed as he realized the potential for producing his own biodiesel.

Starting from the initial questions about growing canola in Vermont, the project has grown to include a major emphasis on biodiesel production. As shown in this video, Rainville himself led that charge developing expertise in production, harvesting, processing and storage of canola (and sunflower) oil. He also fine-tuned the technical side of converting that oil into biodiesel fuel for use on the farm. Now it’s the seed meal and the harvest residue that are byproducts.

As the economic and environmental incentives attract more farmers to this technology, Rainville cautions that farmers should try out oilseed and biofuel production on a small scale first, before making any major changes or investments in equipment. Watch the video and learn more to see if biodiesel production might be adapted to your farm or ranch system.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) logoThe Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program’s mission is to advance—to the whole of American agriculture—innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education. SARE is proud of its connections to farming communities across the country and encourages those who wish to learn more to visit the site. SARE is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA.

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5 Comments

  1. AB Brown says:

    The glycerin that is produced from this process are gycerin salts that are highly toxic. Where pray tell in this article is the mass production of this Glycerin to be disposed of? (10 Gal for evry 50 of yield) What is its half life and effects on ground water. Before you go believing fairy tails it would help to get a reality check first.

    • The co-product generally produced by the biodiesel process is a mix of glycerin and methanol. When methanol recovery is employed in the process – by heating the mixture to evaporate and condense the methanol from it – the separated methanol is reused in subsequent batches. This is an important part of any biodiesel process, and while Borderview Farm is equipping itself with a methanol recovery system, they have been safely storing approximately 250 gallons of the raw glycerin. After methanol recovery the resulting glycerin will contain residual potassium or sodium, but this does not result in toxicity unless one decides to consume vast amounts of it directly. The toxic and environmental concerns are with the residual methanol, not glycerin. Glycerin itself is a non-hazardous and valuable resource that others have interest in for production of various products and other uses. None of this is intended to downplay the necessity for treatment of all product and waste streams with respect and proper management.

      If readers want to educate themselves on the risk factors associated with chemicals involved in this process, I’d suggest they obtain Material Safety Data Sheets for such (from, e.g. http://www.utahbiodieselsupply.com/links.php#msds) and review some of the safety information available from the National Biodiesel Board (www.biodiesel.org).

      What Roger is doing is one of the few practical solutions to the challenge of sustainable liquid fuels for agriculture. Farmers in Vermont are producing clean burning, quality fuel from their own crops with their own equipment at costs well below market pricing for imported, petro-diesel fuel. And they are doing so with due regard for society and the environment. Bear in mind that another co-product from this process (oilseed meal) provides feed and nutrients for our food systems.

  2. illona says:

    Here in Canada canola oil is very much grown, however there is a huge amount contaminated by GMO’s. In order for this to be sustainable, GMO canola has got to go – or at least the patents that exist on its seed. MONSANTO sued Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, for having GMO canola in his field even though he was certified organic. Pollen drift contaminated his field and Monsanto prosecuted him for it. http://www.percyschmeiser.com/

  3. David Katz says:

    Seeing as this is an article on farming and energy, it would be nice if someone would disclose the yield per acre in pounds of canola or sunflower at this site and the yield per ton of oil seed of fuel. Makes you wonder why this basic information is not disclosed up front.

    thanks

    • For those interested in the more technical aspects, from Roger Rainville, here’s some additional information: Canola seed has an average oil content of 40% by weight and sunflowers have around 35%. Both crops average about one ton of seed per acre equivalent to about 100-120 gallons per acre.