Rising fuel prices have more than doubled the cost of keeping vehicles on the road in the last few years, and efforts to curb costs have turned many consumers and fleet operators to an alternative that is also environmentally friendly.

Biodiesel made from soybeans is selling and performing well across Mississippi, making biodiesel a high-demand fuel for some drivers. While its price at the pump once surpassed petroleum-based diesel, its use can now save money for drivers.

Michael Dees, president and owner of Dees Oil Co. based in Ripley, Miss., started selling biodiesel a year ago. Today, he sells 10,000 gallons of biodiesel a day, or about 25 percent of his total fuel sales.

“We had a limited supply when we started selling it, and the quality levels weren't that good at the time,” Dees said. “Now we've got four supply points that we can get it from, and the quality level is much better. It seems like as fast as we can get new production, we can sell it.”

Biodiesel is sold as a blend of this soybean-based fuel mixed with petroleum-based fuel. Dees said he sells blends ranging from 5 percent biodiesel to 80 percent biodiesel to his customers.

“If they just want to test it, they start at 5 percent,” Dees said.

Dees said biodiesel is normally 20 cents a gallon cheaper than ultra-low sulfur diesel. Federal standards mandated that the predominant diesel fuel available at retailers for highway use should meet ultra-low sulfur diesel standards by Oct. 15. Biodiesel has no sulfur and reduced emissions, so it is a good alternative under the new standards. Dees expects biodiesel's share of the market to continue to grow.

“Some truck lines and big truck stops are finding out biodiesel is for real,” Dees said.

Other reasons for its popularity are the fact that it is produced from Mississippi-grown crops and is environmentally friendly. Mississippi State University, with support from the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board, is involved in several ongoing research projects that impact the state's ability to produce good quantities of high-quality biodiesel.

Larry Oldham, a soil and water quality specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said vehicles drip fluids onto roads, driveways and parking lots. These petroleum-based chemicals are washed into surface water supplies when it rains.

“This runoff from impervious pavement is part of the overall non-point surface pollution equation,” Oldham said. “There are several things that are being done to address it, ranging from using new fuels that are more environmentally friendly to developing different surfaces that soak up these materials and designing urban areas to better protect the waterways.”

Brent Bailey, an environmental programs coordinator with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, said biodiesel is a renewable energy that can be grown and used in Mississippi.

“The industry is going through growing pains. Early on, you had a lot of small producers who were faced with quality challenges in the production of biodiesel,” Bailey said. “As technology improved and people incorporated it into their production, instead of just creating biodiesel, we are moving into biodiesel refining to produce a consistent, high-quality product.”

Bailey said biodiesel is a non-toxic, biodegradable product that has low levels of carbon monoxide and other harmful emissions. It is free of sulfur and much of what gives traditional diesel its smell. It acts as a solvent and keeps engines running clean.

“Biodiesel can reduce virtually all the emission factors that are typically regulated through tailpipe emission standards,” Bailey said. “Petroleum diesel could gum up engines over time, but burning biodiesel cleans the fuel systems out.”