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Fact Sheet: Biodiesel Demonstration at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center / August 11, 1999 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Fact Sheet:

Biodiesel Demonstration at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center

By Don Comis
August 11, 1999

What is the Biodiesel Demonstration project?

This August, the two storage tanks that supply diesel fuel for all the equipment needed to farm on the Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center’s (BARC) 6,000-acre east side were filled with “biodiesel fuel,” a mix of 20 percent soybean oil and 80 percent regular diesel fuel.

The Beltsville center is the largest research facility of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

The one-year demonstration project is designed to test the feasibility of permanently switching as many federal government vehicles as possible nationwide to this alternative diesel fuel, using oil from soybeans, corn, or other crops.

Other USDA vehicles in the Washington, D.C., area will also run on biodiesel as part of this project.

The Beltsville farm equipment that will run on this biodiesel fuel includes:

  • 20 trucks
  • 13 tractors
  • 1 forklift
  • 1 Humvee
  • 1 loader
  • 1 compost turner
  • 1 chopper
  • 1 "haybine" (cuts hay)
  • 1 combine
  • 1 tanker truck (carries liquid manure)

These vehicles will be used for farm operations, including planting and harvesting crops, chopping hay and organic mulches, and carrying manure and livestock bedding to the BARC compost facility.

In addition, BARC’s roads and grounds crew have the following vehicles running on biodiesel:

  • 2 bulldozers
  • 10 grass mowers
  • 1 road grader
  • 1 asphalt roller
  • 1 wood chipper
  • 1 tree stump grinder
  • 2 backhoes
  • 2 loaders
  • 1 dump truck
  • 1 tractor
  • 1 pickup truck

The tractor, two of the grass mowers, a dump truck and a pickup truck will be closely monitored. Oil samples from these vehicles were analyzed before they were filled with biodiesel. More samples will be analyzed at each oil change to check for engine wear.

These five vehicles were chosen for the close monitoring because they are heavily used, with the trucks and tractor used year-round. The tractor and dump truck carry everything from corn silage in the fall to road salt and sand in the winter. They also double as snowplows.

Are other vehicles at BARC running on biodiesel fuel?

The ARS National Visitor Center’s bus, used for tours of BARC, is also taking part in the biodiesel fuel demonstration. That means a total of 65 vehicles are using biodiesel at BARC. The tour bus was the first vehicle to fill up on the alternative diesel fuel.

Why is the use of biofuels important?

Besides helping farmers by opening new markets for their crops, biofuels have been shown to pollute less and may help engines run cleaner, lowering vehicle maintenance.

BARC chose biodiesel because its equipment already runs on diesel fuel, so no modifications or equipment purchases were needed. Also, BARC wants to support the federal effort to reduce reliance on imported petroleum.

Using a renewable, on-farm resource like soybean oil fits in with BARC’s now 7-year-old sustainable agriculture program.

Are there disadvantages to using biofuels?

Biodiesel fuel currently is more costly than regular diesel fuel. Some of this expense, but probably not all, may be offset by expected reductions in maintenance costs. Also, the price of biodiesel fuel is expected to drop if it becomes more widely used.

Scientific contact: Ronald F. Korcak, Associate Area Director, ARS Beltsville Area Office, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-5193, fax (301) 504-5863,

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