The Adaptive Problem-Solver
Updated: Mar 3
Thirty years ago, the ethanol industry was well on its way to commercial development as a means for corn farmers to boost crop values while contributing solutions to the respective energy and farm crises of the 1970s and 1980s. Although ethanol is an important contribution to the fuel supply, farmers use diesel-powered equipment for their operations, so in that respect ethanol did not come full circle. Many of these farmers whose corn crops were being used for ethanol also grew soybeans, a product that had potential to revolutionize the heavy-duty fuel markets and be used, and embraced, on farm.
Soybean crush was on the rise to feed the protein-rich soymeal to livestock in order to satisfy growing meat demand, without the drawbacks of the oil content on animal health and productivity. Although food uses soaked up some of the growing stocks of soybean oil, it wasn’t enough—and farmers were hurting as storage tanks were filling up with product going rancid and prices falling, dragging down profits with it.
Thanks to the leadership of Kenlon Johannes at the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, who saw opportunities for biodiesel in America like they had been developing in Europe—although based on soybean oil in the U.S. instead of rapeseed and other oils there—farmers from various states banded together and, with funding from the national and state checkoff boards, formed an organization that would spend the next 30 years growing an idea into commercial reality. As the National Biodiesel Board celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2022, and rebrands as the Clean Fuels Alliance America, it would be hard to imagine the renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industries blossoming like they are without the dedicated work those soybean farmer-leaders put in upfront on testing, demonstrations and market development.
Three decades ago, the country was awash in soybean oil. Now, thanks to that work and the bourgeoning renewable diesel and SAF sectors, bean oil is for the first time in history driving crush demand and values.
As we reflect on these accomplishments, it is important not to forget those who made it all possible while also remembering there is still much work ahead on policy, technical, feedstock and many other fronts. Yesterday the talking points were energy security and markets for bean oil. Now, the driving force de jour is carbon reduction. Whatever compels interest in and support for biobased diesel fuels, the important point is that these fuels—biodiesel, renewable diesel, marine biofuel and SAF—continue to be highly relevant as part of the solution to a variety of societal problems.
Author: Ron Kotrba
Editor and Publisher