As a former Marine who has seen firsthand our country's crying need for domestic energy security, I am a believer in biodiesel. I've had a hand in building four of Iowa's 15 biodiesel plants, and serve as chairman of Western Iowa Energy, a 30 million gallon plant in Wall Lake. I take exception to a recent Farm News and Messenger articles that featured anti-biodiesel testimony given by a representative of Decker Truck Line, based in Fort Dodge. The article did not give the full picture.
The testimony of Decker's Steve Lurson before the House Ag Committee has damaged the reputation of biodiesel, a political maneuver that could set this promising fuel back in the eyes of Iowans.
Lurson testified about a study of B20 (20 percent biodiesel/80 percent diesel) performed by Iowa Central Community College, and cast biodiesel in a very negative light. The company opposes a bill that would ensure the state's diesel fuel supply contains 5 percent biodiesel. The actual results of the study contradict what Lurson said about biodiesel's cold weather performance, fuel economy and cost effectiveness.
In fact, at the hearing Lurson contradicted himself, having said in a 2008 eTrucker.com article: "We are receiving positive feedback from customers who see the 'green' benefits of using a trucking company that runs on biodiesel. By using a renewable fuel, Decker is actually picking up additional business."
The Two Million Mile Haul study showed that fuel economy differences between B20 and petrodiesel are either nonexistent or much smaller than the normal variation seen from driver to driver.
In their final report, the ICCC researchers said, "We found a slight decrease in overall fuel efficiency for the B20 group (as opposed to the conventional diesel group) but this was not statistically significant given relatively small sample size and short time period of the study, and in fact, was several times smaller than the driver-to-driver variability in fuel efficiency within each group."
Biodiesel at a glance
A study of 2009 biodiesel production shows an increase in economic activity generated by biodiesel production supported the creation of more than 2,900 permanent jobs.
Biodiesel added more than $470 million dollars to Iowa's GDP annually.
Iowa has 15 biodiesel plants with about 325 million gallons of capacity per year.
B5 is legally considered diesel fuel and poses no warranty issues
When made with high quality biodiesel, B5 will perform just like diesel, even in the coldest of temperatures. It is treated similarly to No. 2 diesel in winter.
More than 90 percent of the state's biodiesel production capacity comes from BQ-9000 certified producers. BQ-9000 is the industry's stringent quality assurance program.
Contradicting what Lurson told state legislators, the study also showed B20 can be successfully used in cold weather. While there were some incidences of increased filter maintenance from the study, "Many of the maintenance issues can be explained by the 2007 national changeover to ultra low sulfur petroleum diesel, on-site blending and storage negligence or inexperience with biodiesel. Even those were relatively minor issues in the context of the whole study," the report said.
Additional experience with both ULSD and biodiesel blends, combined with improved biodiesel specifications, have provided trouble-free B20 use in cold weather for many, many users in Iowa and around the country. And let's not forget that the proposed legislation that Decker opposes is only for 5 percent biodiesel.
Whether Decker supports the proposed B5 legislation or not, what they tried to do to biodiesel's reputation before the state Legislature is quite simply inexcusable. And the issue of domestic energy security is much bigger than a couple of cents. The Decker customers know that we've got to produce more energy in this country. They are missing the big picture in their opposition.
But let's look at the price issue anyway. There is no evidence that B5 would raise the price of diesel. In fact, taking fuel taxes out of the equation, a Feb. 22 price comparison found Minnesota's B5 was less expensive than Iowa's diesel. That's according to the eTrucker.com ProMiles fuel prices Web site. Likewise, the Minnesota Department of Revenue says diesel sales have remained consistent with overall fuel sales in the state. Truckers are not bypassing Minnesota.
Like all biodiesel plants, my plant is running substantially below capacity, and we are at risk of having to lay off workers without strong government policies to support domestic energy production. We have managed to keep the work force in place, but without strong government policy, we are very concerned about our employees.
At one time, Iowa biodiesel production increased economic activity that supported the creation of more than 5,400 permanent, green jobs and added more than $1 billion dollars to Iowa's GDP annually. Those benefits were reduced by half in 2009. We are on a severe downward slide. Meanwhile, Iowans continue to buy foreign oil.
A woman who invested in one of Iowa's biodiesel plants told me something I will never forget. She said she didn't care if she made or lost money on the venture. But if one less flag-draped coffin came back to America, it would have been worth it. Now there's someone who sees the bigger picture.
Bill Horan is chairman of Western Iowa Energy and a member of the Iowa Biodiesel Board. He's also a soybean farmer in Calhoun County.