A new facility that will produce biodiesel fuel made entirely from soybean oil will be built near DeWitt, Ark. Founders of Arkansas SoyEnergy Group, LLC, say they expect to produce the first 100 percent soy-based fuel by late 2007.

The plant will crush soybeans grown within a 50-mile radius of DeWitt, creating a new market for area farmers as well as providing “homegrown energy” that can be used in farm machinery and vehicles. Soybean meal from the plant can be used for animal feed.

Arkansas SoyEnergy is believed to be the state’s first biodiesel plant that uses only soybeans and that is equipped to crush the beans on-site. Other biodiesel plants in the state use soybean or cottonseed oil, animal fats or used cooking oils to make biodiesel that is then blended with regular diesel.

“The greatest thing about this new plant is that it will help the farmers in this community,” said Troy Hornbeck of DeWitt, a principal in Arkansas SoyEnergy Group. “Farmers need new markets for their crops, and they are battling higher energy costs. Our goal is to create new markets and produce cost-effective fuel for farmers, right here in Arkansas County.”

When initial construction is complete, Arkansas SoyEnergy will produce 3 million gallons of biodiesel that is 100 percent soy-based. Future expansion could more than double the initial capacity.

Biodiesel is any renewable fuel for diesel engines that has been made from natural oils, and which meets the specifications of the American Society of Testing and Materials. Pure, unblended biodiesel is called B100, and blended fuels are labeled to show their biofuel content. For example, B20 is a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.

Arkansas SoyEnergy Group will process up to 110,000 tons of soybeans annually, and 85 percent of that volume will leave the plant as soybean meal for use in animal feeds.

“As a year-round soy fuel refiner, Arkansas SoyEnergy Group will be a consistent source of high quality soy meal that the feed mills in our region require,” Hornbeck said. “That is another way this plant can create a stronger market for local farmers.”

Arkansas SoyEnergy Group is building its facility on a 22-acre tract along Highway 165 south of DeWitt. The plant will be built in phases, starting with machinery that will crush the locally grown beans, extract and produce partially refined soybean oil. When that work is completed next year, work can begin on the second phase to produce up to 3 million gallons of B100 by year-end 2007.

“We will be able to sell partially processed oil to other refiners, or we could splash-blend the B100 on our site for delivery to the farm, or we could sell the B100 fuel,” Hornbeck said.

B100 has been used for several years in Argentina. In the United States, biodiesel use this year is expected to double the 75 million gallons consumed in 2005. To meet demand, as many as 50 new biodiesel plants are being built nationwide.

Rather than seeing other plants as competition, Arkansas SoyEnergy Group welcomes a growing biodiesel industry. “That’s the best way to give farmers an opportunity to succeed, plus it would improve our energy independence and help local economies,” Hornbeck said.

Arkansas farmers produce approximately 124 million bushels of soybeans. A bushel will yield about 1.3 gallons of B100.

The Arkansas SoyEnergy plant is designed to allow still more expansion, with the potential for up to 6.5 million gallons of soy-based B100 in the future.

Arkansas SoyEnergy Group was founded by Jeff, Troy and Jon Hornbeck, all of DeWitt. They also own and manage a family farm and the Hornbeck Seed Company, based in DeWitt. Starting in 1981, Hornbeck Seed has grown into one of the Mid-South’s premier dealers of proprietary soybean products.