When Cullen Bryant refuels his tractors or fills up his trucks, he’s doing his part to ensure the sustainability of South Carolina agriculture. Bryant uses biodiesel made from soy oil to fuel the equipment for
his 1,700-acre cotton, soybean and peanut farm in Dillon. Bryant says he prefers the soy-based fuel, which is made by extracting oil from soybeans and then processing the oil through transesterification.
“The soy diesel has more lubricity than regular diesel – that helps your engines run more smoothly, adds to longevity of equipment and cuts down on repair. There are a lot of alternative energies out there, but soy diesel is one that has been tried and tested and has sustainability,” Bryant says. “It lessens our dependence on foreign oil. It helps the environment, and it’s a renewable resource for American farmers.”
Bryant began using biodiesel around 2004 because he wanted to do all he could to conserve the land for future generations.
“I love seeing my grandchildren out on the farm with their friends, enjoying nature. I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to be able to enjoy the same land that I’ve enjoyed, but if we don’t protect the environment, that won’t be possible,” says the 2012 American Soybean Growers Association’s Conservation Legacy Award winner. “We’ve been blessed with this beautiful land, and we have to take care of it.”
Over the last decade, the replacement of petroleum diesel with biodiesel has reduced life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 billion pounds – the equivalent in emissions of 4.96 million cars.
Trash to Treasure
A few years after Bryant started fueling his tractors with soy diesel, “Bio” Joe Renwick began exploring cheaper fuel alternatives for his pickup truck. He started making biodiesel from waste vegetable oil collected from local restaurants. His experiment was a chemical and economic success, and a few years later, he and a college friend started Midlands Biofuels in Winnsboro – one of the largest commercial biodiesel processors in the Southeast.
The company collects waste oils from more than 400 restaurants, schools and recycling centers across the state. Midlands sells biofuel – customers can purchase between five and 7,500 gallons – to farmers, families and businesses. Renwick says not only is biodiesel an environmentally friendly energy source, but an economically
sound one as well.
“Although alternative fuels production could never completely replace the amount of foreign oil that we have become so dependent upon, by creating more producers that rely on local resources, new jobs would be available, and residents could transport themselves using what is available locally,” Renwick says. “The demand for foreign oil could be reduced, creating a better local economy and help lessen the carbon footprint of shipping oil overseas. Making alternative fuels available puts deep-rooted systems in place that allow local recycling to directly benefit the local community. Nothing reaches more people than food and fuel.”
Fueling the Economy
The company hopes to build other small sustainable plants in South Carolina markets, such as Charleston, Rock Hill and Greenville – creating seven to eight green jobs per location.
Bryant and Renwick are just two examples of the state’s – and the country’s – growing biomass energy industry. South Carolina production of biodiesel,
for example, hovers around 40 million gallons annually. Nearly 2 billion gallons were produced in the United States in 2014. That’s good news for soybean growers, considering a bushel of soybeans will produce 1.5 gallons of fuel.
“Now you have more uses for soybean oil. Soy meal used to be the price leader, and the oils were a lagging market, but the biofuel industry has widened the market for soybeans and through research and technology, we’re now able to use much more of the soybean than we were before,” Bryant says.
Soybeans are not the only South Carolina commodity used in renewable energy production. In January 2015, Vega Biofuels Inc. announced plans to build a torrefaction plant in Allendale to convert timber waste into its Bio-coal product. Timber is the state’s top cash crop, and the forestry industry accounts for 90,000 jobs.
Dayton, Ohio-based Quality Farms announced a Southeastern expansion that will invest $1.9 million toward a processing facility in Mullins to convert waste beer and wine into fuel-grade ethanol and create 27 new jobs.