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Becky Lourey: Biodiesel has huge potential for state ag

A bill requiring the use of soy-based blends (or "biodiesel") in diesel fuels recently passed the Senate Agriculture, General Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee by unanimous vote.

A bill requiring the use of soy-based blends (or "biodiesel") in diesel fuels recently passed the Senate Agriculture, General Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee by unanimous vote.
Under the legislation, the state's diesel fuel supply would have to contain a 2 percent soy-based blend by 2002 and a 5 percent soy-based blend by 2006. Biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative fuel made from renewable fats or oils, such as soybean oil. It can be burned in any diesel vehicle and performs much like petroleum diesel, but is non-toxic and biodegradable, and its use reduces harmful air emissions.
The legislation is a first step toward developing a new energy-based market for farm commodities. With experts predicting that farm income is likely to drop up to 20 percent in the next two years, this is a step toward helping farmers pull out of the potential economic sinkhole they're in. Most importantly, this legislation comes at a time when we have a glut of soybeans and soybean oil reserves driving down soybean prices. By requiring the use of soy-blended fuels, we can create a new demand for existing soybean surpluses and can expand the markets for soybean production.
Another exciting development along these lines comes out of Montana State University, where researchers are studying ways to use canola oil as a less expensive and more environmentally sound engine oil for cars. On the heels of executive orders from President Clinton, federal agencies are mandated to purchase environmentally friendly, renewable and recyclable ag-based products. University research has shown that canola could be a viable alternative for petroleum-based lubricants.
The U.S. Defense Department, which uses countless gallons of oil per year to keep its cars, trucks, planes, tanks, ships and other vehicles running, has conducted studies showing that canola-based oils are less expensive to use, and can even reduce engine wear. Most importantly, they are environmentally safer than petroleum-based oils.
While we're not to the point where you can pour canola oil in your car, these developments are clear signs that we are moving toward a broader range of uses for farm products. And with federal laws designed to change diesel fuel composition requirements set to go into effect, biodiesel blends are expected to be in great demand since the new requirements reduce the amount of sulfur in fuel, thereby making diesel fuels less slick and more likely to damage engine parts.
As important as the positive effects on the state's agri-business community are the things that biodiesel could mean in terms of clean air and clean water for future generations. In the past, our state has been a national leader in the production of new and environmentally sound fuels such as ethanol. This legislation puts the state on the leading edge of biodiesel production and would continue the state's reputation as an alternative energy leader.
In a time when rural communities statewide are struggling to create jobs and maintain populations, innovations which have the potential to benefit both the economy and the environment are exciting for the people of Minnesota.
Senator Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, serves on the Senate Agriculture, General Legislative and Veterans Affairs Committee. She can be reached by phone at (651) 396-0293, or via e-mail at: sen.becky.lourey@senate.leg.state.mn.us .

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