The Center for Food Integrity (CFI), with support from the United Soybean Board (USB), hosted a virtual roundtable meeting Aug. 16 on the benefits of biodiesel. The small-group meeting is part of a broader CFI/USB project that includes invitation-only roundtable meetings and public webinars designed to foster farmer and food company collaboration as both work toward a more sustainable future.

As food companies are under increasing pressure to meet ambitious ESG commitments, and with fuel being an important part of the supply chain equation, biodiesel is often overlooked as a renewable fuel alternative.

The meeting featured four panelists who brought unique perspectives on biodiesel to the table:

  • Veronica Bradley, director of environmental science for Clean Fuels Alliance America
  • Nancy Kavazanjian, Wisconsin soybean/crop farmer and USB farmer-leader
  • Ed Lammers, Nebraska soybean/crop farmer and USB farmer-leader
  • John Benish, Jr., president and CEO of Cook-Illinois Corporation, a family-owned and operated business and sixth largest school bus company in the nation, fueled by biodiesel

Demand is growing as more companies and municipalities look to biodiesel to lower their carbon footprint, according to Bradley. In 2020, Clean Fuels Alliance America announced a goal to be a 6-billion-gallon industry by 2030. Currently, it’s a 3-billion-gallon industry. “I think demand will get us to our goal well before 2030,” she said.

Bradley addressed greenhouse gas emissions, detailing that biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis relative to petroleum fuel by 74%. “It’s great for our planet, our economy, our communities and farmers,” said Bradley, who also discussed a new study conducted by Trinity Consultants on the air quality benefits of biodiesel in high-risk air quality communities in the U.S.

It shows that switching to biodiesel results in substantial health benefits including decreased cancer risk, fewer premature deaths, reduced asthma attacks and fewer lost workdays. The study found that replacing diesel fuel with biodiesel in Washington D.C. alone could reduce the symptoms of asthma by nearly 13,000 incidents per year and annual lost workdays could be reduced by almost 5,700, representing nearly $1.5 million in economic activity.

An additional benefit to using biofuel is that the crops used to produce it are grown much more sustainably today.

Lammers and Kavazanjian told their sustainability stories to the group, including how they plant cover crops, use no-till practices and solar and wind power, grow pollinator habitat and use variable rate technology.

“Overall, we’re using less fuel, less fertilizer and less equipment while producing more. That’s a real sustainability story,” said Lammers, who also uses biodiesel on the farm.

“Our crops take carbon out of the air. Then we can convert those crops into biodiesel that reduces the amount of carbon in vehicle fleets. It comes full circle and is really rewarding,” said Kavazanjian.

Benish shared that his company has been using B11 and B20 in its bus fleets since 2005 and has never looked back.

“We transport up to 150,000 students every morning and afternoon, some with special needs, including respiratory issues, so we want to create an environment in and around the buses and schools that’s the greenest possible,” he said.

“It’s better for the environment, it’s better for the students, it’s better for the engines and doesn’t require any vehicle modifications,” said Benish. “There are a lot of advantages.”

Benish is excited about a fall pilot when the company will begin using B100 in five of its buses.

“I have to use fuel no matter what, so why not use a fuel that’s going to make the environment around the students and our schools better?” he said.