The Arkansas and Mississippi state legislatures recently ended spring sessions. While biodiesel was on the agenda in both state capitols, politicians predict 2007 sessions will see more substantial, favorable legislation regarding the fuel. At least that’s the hope.

“What we did this session was a technical correction, really,” says Sen. Steve Higginbotham, who farms outside Marianna, Ark. “When we passed legislation during the last session calling for a tax refund on biodiesel, we were told there was a need to cap it at a 2 percent blend. That (cap) was needed because the state couldn’t afford to credit blends at 5, 10 or 20 percent.

The wording of the cap “was kind of poor — it was written in a rush during the last week of the last session. The law was interpreted to mean the refund could only be given for a 2 percent blend. Any blend at a higher percentage couldn’t get the rebate. What we just did was allow all blends to be eligible for the 2 percent.”

Eastman

Modifying the existing legislation is a good initial step, says Gary McDonald, manager of administration at Eastman Chemical, a Batesville, Ark., facility producing biodiesel. “Hopefully, this will lead to additional legislation in the 2007 regular session that will promote both biofuels and bioproducts. It’s certainly a welcome development.”

What would McDonald like to see the state legislature do with biodiesel in the 2007 session?

“It’s early to be specific about legislation. But in looking at what other states have in place regarding biofuels/bioproducts, there are incentives for both use, infrastructure — to distribute, supply or serve as a collection system — and even production. We’d like to think the legislature will be looking at a broad range of programs across all those.”

Whatever happens in the state’s government, Eastman remains on track with biodiesel production expansion plans. The company recently increased production capacity to 6 million gallons per year.

“We’ll have that up to 18 million gallons per year by June. We’ll have a significant increase in capacity over what we had when we started last fall.”

The reason for the increase in capacity is there’s more opportunity in the Arkansas-area market than Eastman anticipated. “Also, there are a number of national and regional distributors of fuel and biodiesel that have become interested in our work. They’ve expressed interest in us possibly supplying them on a broader basis. To do that we must have significant amounts of capacity should we land one, two or more of those (supply) arrangements.”

Eastman recently attained BQ9000 quality status, making it one of only five U.S. biodiesel producers to be so accredited by the National Biodiesel Board.

“That’s partly what has triggered interest in us on a more national and regional basis. People want to be assured they’ll be supplied with top-quality fuel. The BQ9000 suppliers provide that.”

While Higginbotham won’t be running for office again, he expects colleagues to continue pushing biodiesel. “In 2007, I think (the legislature) will try to really put some money into alternative fuels — particularly focusing on biodiesel. It’s premature to go further, but I’m very hopeful it will fly. So many states like Arkansas have great ambition to do something like this. Mississippi has a wonderful biodiesel law (in the works).”

Mississippi

But at the close of Mississippi’s legislative session, no biodiesel legislation had passed.

“We had a pretty good session anyway,” says Sen. Perry Lee of Mississippi District 35. “I introduced Senate Bill 2492 that called for a 2 percent (biodiesel blend) mandate in the state. All diesel sold in Mississippi would have to contain 2 percent biodiesel.

“The petroleum distributors, Chevron, and the Mississippi Trucking Association threw cold water on it. The thing that bothered the folks opposed was the mandate. It wasn’t so much the biodiesel itself. The mandate was the sticking point.”

Still, Lee — who came to politics after 31 years as a county Extension agent — is encouraged. A study committee is set to look at biodiesel legislative possibilities over the summer. The committee will consider other states’ biodiesel regulations and see how they might work in Mississippi.

News of Minnesota’s experience with biodiesel hurt the Mississippi effort, says Lee. “We had the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee go to the floor and tell everyone the trucking industry up there was shut down due to biodiesel.

“And there was a problem with some of their fuel having too much glycerin. That stopped up some filters. I don’t think it actually shut the industry down, though. The problem was in the manufacturing process not the biodiesel itself.”

Biodiesel can also act as a solvent. “What happens is when you put it in old equipment or tanks, it breaks loose many of the impurities or sludge. It can clean them out and stop the filters up. If you’re going to put it in old equipment, you need to watch your filters closely for the first couple of weeks you use it.”

However, that’s a minor worry, insists Lee. There are plenty of reasons to use biofuels.

“First, it will lessen our dependence on foreign sources of fuel. They tell us gas and diesel will be $3 per gallon by summer. I can’t see anything except the bioindustry being enhanced with the increasing oil prices we’re seeing.”

The lubricity of biodiesel is a lot better than straight petroleum.

“It makes engines run smoother — it doesn’t have the friction there to cause decreased fuel consumption. Using it means better fuel mileage. There are farmers in Mississippi running B100, pure soy diesel. They say their equipment is running as well as it ever has. They’ve had no problems with it.”

Mississippi has had incentives for ethanol production and infrastructure in place. But there’s nothing similar for biodiesel yet.

“We sold 750 million gallons of diesel fuel last year that the state tax commission had on record. My proposal said that when the state reached a production of 8 million gallons of biofuel, a 2 percent mandate would kick in.”

The biofuel would have to be produced on Mississippi soil. It couldn’t be shipped in.

“At 2 percent of 750 million, we’d have to have 15 million gallons of biofuel ready to go. Even if it had passed, it would probably have been a year or two before the state could have reached 8 million gallons in production.”

Farmers and potential manufacturers “loved” the idea, says Lee. “They believe this is a thing of the future. As the price from overseas oil increases, it will become increasingly imperative to find other ways to run equipment and vehicles. Biofuel fits that niche. I’d rather pay our farmers to produce energy than someone over in those deserts.”

With 11 crops the fuel can be derived from, there is much potential for U.S. farmers.

“For many reasons, this nation simply must look at alternative fuels. Mississippi alone produces 60 million bushels of soybeans. I’m not saying we’d use all the resulting soybean oil for biofuel, but there’s no doubt there’s a glut of soybean oil currently. It would certainly help our farmers to consider biofuel. That’s not only because of the extra money they’d get, but it would also help dispose of the soybean oil glut.”

A bushel of soybeans will produce about 1.4 gallons of biodiesel. Mississippi’s 60 million bushels of soybeans has the potential to produce about 85 million gallons of biodiesel.

“Looking at the United States, there are 3 billion bushels of soybeans. That would equal something like 5.2 billion gallons of soy-diesel. Forget using the entire crop for fuel, but how about just half of it? That’s substantial. It’s a partial solution for the energy crisis, if nothing else. And that doesn’t take into account all the other crops that can be utilized for biofuel.”

For more information on Eastman’s biodiesel work, see http://deltafarmpress.com/mag/farming_producing_using_arkansas/index.html.

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com