USDA Clears Air with Biodiesel
By Don Comis
January 13, 2000
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13,
2000--Buses and other diesel-burning vehicles-- including this winter's
snowplows--might run cleaner if they mix soy-based biodiesel with their regular
That's the message sent out by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture at a biodiesel fuel seminar today at a USDA
research center in Beltsville, Maryland. Several of the farm's 65 tractors,
trucks, a tour bus, and other vehicles that operate on "B20," a
20-percent biodiesel/80-percent diesel fuel mix, were on display.
"The program is part of a federal effort to reduce reliance on petroleum
and create new markets for U.S. crops," said Floyd P. Horn, administrator
of the Agricultural Research Service,
USDA's chief scientific agency. "The added benefit is that crop-based
diesel burns cleaner, less sooty."
Horn said that last summer, ARS
began a one-year demonstration project to test the feasibility of permanently
switching as many federal government vehicles as possible nationwide to
alternative diesel fuels, using biodiesel from soybeans, other seed oils, or
"One of our goals is to increase the federal government's purchases of
bio-based fuel and other products by 10 percent per year over the next 5
years," Horn said. "Through today's demonstration we want to
encourage the private sector and local governments to do the same."
Horn cited as an example of the spread of the concept to the private sector
a recent Maryland
Soybean Board grant funded by soybean farmers. The grant went to the
Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber
of Commerce to test biodiesel on commuter buses in Odenton, Md., a suburb
in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, where Beltsville is located.
Walter Townshend, president of the Corridor Chamber of Commerce, spoke at
the seminar this morning. He said that when he learned about the ARS biodiesel
demonstration, he was interested, because "air quality is an issue in this
region." When Townshend learned that biodiesel would require no vehicle
modifications, he was sold on the idea of testing it on a fleet of buses
managed by an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce to help employees get to
work. His test will begin early this year.
Alan Weber, whose firm, MARC-IV, based in Kansas City, Mo., represents the
National Biodiesel Board of Jefferson City,
Mo., described an additional incentive for federal and state agencies and
public utilities in large metropolitan areas. He said recent changes in the
Energy Policy Act of 1992 offer credits for biodiesel fuel usage in existing
vehicles, reducing the number of alternative fuel vehicles that must be
purchased. Weber said future changes could also affect large municipal vehicle
fleets, such as buses and public works vehicles.
Thomas A. Foglia, a chemist with the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in
Wyndmoor, Penn., also spoke at this morning's seminar. He gave an overview of
ARS research on biodiesel and biodegradable fuel additives and lubricants made
from vegetable oils, animal fats, greases, and spent restaurant oils.
People responsible for operating private, municipal and federal vehicle
fleets in the Washington metropolitan area were invited to participate in the
Scientific contact: Ronald F. Korcak, Beltsville Area Associate
Director, ARS Beltsville Agricultural
Research Center, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-5193, fax (301) 504-