Thanks to modern technology, farmers don’t need a drill to strike oil in their own fields.
Crops such as canola, sunflowers and soybeans can be processed into biofuels and used to power tractors and combines, or generate electricity for the farm.
Dr. Jason de Koff with Tennessee State University College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences, received a grant in 2012 to build the Mobile Biodiesel Education Demonstration (MBED) trailer, a mobile education station, which contains the equipment necessary to convert oilseed into fuel. The grant also included collaboration from other staff and faculty at TSU including Chris Robbins, Dr. Prabodh Illukpitiya, Dr. John Ricketts and Alvin Wade.
The MBED demonstrates the process and value of producing biofuel, de Koff says. “We also take it around to local schools to demonstrate some of the unique career opportunities agriculture has to offer.”
Biofuel technology has a tremendous economic impact locally and nationally.
Relying more heavily on biofuels creates a new form of revenue for the farmers, as well as helping the U.S. depend less on foreign oil.
“Approximately 80 percent of the energy consumption in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels,” de Koff says. “We need to diversify our energy sources in case one becomes unavailable or the price is too high.”
The presence of biofuel refineries in rural areas where the raw materials are grown will greatly benefit the local economy. Refineries mean job opportunities for the community, and revenue for the farmers producing the crops.
Biofuel is also a preferable source of energy because it is a renewable resource, as the crops can be grown year after year.
They are also safer and better for the environment.
“Biofuels typically produce lower greenhouse gases. A biofuel like biodiesel is also nontoxic and less flammable,” de Koff says. “This lowers the risk involved with handling or transportation of the fuel.”
The MBED made its way around the state teaching farmers which Tennessee crops work best for producing biofuel and how to get the most energy per acre.
“Biofuel production is energy efficient,” de Koff says. “It produces more energy than what is required to make the fuel in the first place.”
The experts at TSU recommend Tennessee farmers grow canola and sunflowers because they produce the highest level of oil within the seed. The more oil they can extract, the more biodiesel they can make on a per-acre basis.