Montana DEQ Hosts Biofuel Forum in Great Falls

By TERRI ADAMS The Prairie Star

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)- Montana Renewable Energy Program joined forces with several other agencies to present a biodiesel forum recently. The two-day event was held in Great Falls, Mont., and offered speakers from the DEQ, MSU-Bozeman, Earl Fisher Biofuels, Opportunity Link, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway.

Held at the Best Western Heritage Inn, attendees enjoyed displays, question and answer sessions and the latest information on the biofuel market. Logan Fisher, of Earl Fisher BioFuels, LLP, spoke on some of the challenges to the biofuel market. As co-owner of a small, but successful biofuel refinery in Chester, Mont., Fisher said their business has grown every year, despite the competition.

“With farmers getting $10 a bushel for wheat, that is what they are going to plant,” Fisher commented. Yet their company has been able to purchase small amounts of oilseed to meet their needs. Mostly, though, they produce fuel and feed for producers who want to use both in their own operation.

“A hundred acres of seed can produce 5,000 gallons of fuel and 45 tons of feed,” he said.

To a lot of area producers, that is a nice economic exchange for growing just 100 acres of oilseeds, especially since Earl Fisher BioFuelsjust chargesthe producers a small processing fee.

“Just enough to cover our costs,” he added. “Plus it helps amend the soil for the next crop. They get higher yields the next year. A lot of farmers just keep rotating their 100 acres around.”

The producers mix their fuel and extend it – others just burn it straight until it is all gone. The storage life on biodiesel is the same as petroleum-based fuel, about six months to a year.

The U.S. government is still looking at using biodiesel in their military engines. They like the fact that biodiesel performs well in subzero temperatures day after day.

Day Soriano, with Opportunity Link, talked about how private industry and communities are also starting to look at biodiesel as an option. In Havre, they are running several buses on biodiesel, including daily shuttles to Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy. All total, their buses are logging about 600 miles a day on biodiesel and they have not had any problems with engine wear or weather.

“Those buses have started in 110 degree heat and run in 40 degree below zero weather,” she said.

In fact, when BNSF saw the success of the buses, they decided to take a look at running biodiesel in their engines. They decided to test biodiesel in one of their engines for an entire year, then have their maintenance supervisor take a look at engine wear. For the testing term they purchased their biofuel from Earl Fisher BioFuels, LLP, in Chester. Beau Price, maintenance supervisor with BNSF, said their year-long test, using B-20 biodiesel produced locally by Earl-Fisher BioFuels, has almost concluded and they have found no noticeable difference in wear or efficiency. Right now the cost of manufacturing biodiesel makes switching completely to biodiesel impractical but the BNSF uses 30 million gallons of diesel fuel a year at their Havre refueling station. It is only one of a handful of refueling stations between Minneapolis and Seattle.

If the BNSF sets aside funds to replace only 1 or 2 percent of that fuel with biodiesel, that could be a big boost to Montana’s biodiesel industry.

Overall, the biodiesel industry is showing steady growth in Montana and is drawing increasing interest from industry and government. It is an industry that can reduce output costs for producers while helping to strengthen local and national economies.