Soybean fuel drives Sioux Falls buses

South Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1992  | October 1992 issue

Soybeans are the base for products as diverse as printers' ink and building materials. Now there is also soybean oil diesel fuel.

For the past six months, four Sioux Falls Transit buses have been running on a product called Diesel-Bi, a blend of petroleum-based and soy diesel fuels. "The black smoke normally emitted by standard diesel fuel has been reduced by at least 80 percent," says Don Wilson, Sioux Falls Transit general manager. The buses' engines stay cleaner and the vehicles need no mechanical conversion to run on soy diesel. "We're very pleased with this fuel, and we would strongly consider switching to it full time," Wilson says.

But commercial use is not yet an option. Soy diesel fuel is only in the promotional stage in this country, according to Betty Hansen, executive director of the South Dakota Soybean Association.

Additional US testing sites include St. Louis, where airport vehicles and city buses run on soy diesel. And a California company uses it in lieu of petroleum to line its asphalt-hauling trucks to make removal of the asphalt easier.

US soy diesel is currently produced at a pilot processing plant in Kansas, but once product registration with the US Environmental Protection Agency is complete, it would be possible for the plant to go into full-scale production and for other plants to open.

What this would mean to soybean growers is a rise in prices, Hansen says. "Right now there is the biggest carryover of soybean oil ever, and prices would go up everywhere if soy diesel goes into full production."

But prices for South Dakota soybeans could improve even more if a processing plant is built in the state. South Dakota growers traditionally get 20 cents less per bushel of soybeans than do growers closer to export facilities, Hansen says. A processing plant would increase the local demand for the product and likely raise prices.

The United States is about five years behind Europe in the use of alternative diesel fuel, according to Hansen. There, canola is the oil of choice because it is grown extensively in Europe. And while soy and canola are the basis for current testing programs, the conversion process also works for sunflower oil and even beef tallow.

Kathy Cobb