THE U.S. DEPARTMENT of Agriculture has announced that its agencies will use biodiesel and ethanol fuels in their fleet vehicles where practicable and reasonable in cost. The new policy represents the department's support for the National Energy Plan and for improving environmental air quality, the prosperity of the rural economy, and the nation's energy independence, USDA officials said.

“The energy challenges our nation faces today offer tremendous opportunities for agriculture,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. “Agriculture can help us solve our energy problems through the production of domestic liquid fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Renewable energy is good for independence, good for farmers, and good for the environment.”

The Department will request coordination in the following areas:

  • All USDA diesel fuel storage tanks nationwide will be filled with blends of 20 percent (B20) or higher biodiesel fuel where practicable and reasonable in costs.
  • All USDA-maintained gasoline fueling facilities will buy and use ethanol-blended fuels containing at least 10 percent domestically produced ethanol to the extent practicable, where the fuel is readily available, and reasonably priced compared with unleaded gasoline.
  • USDA's over 700 E-85 flex-fuel vehicles will use ethanol fuel where those vehicles operate in geographical areas that offer E-85 fueling stations.
  • USDA agencies will purchase or lease alternative fuel vehicles, including E-85 flex-fuel vehicles, for geographic areas that offer alternative fueling.

USDA's Henry A. Wallace Agricultural Research Center (Beltsville Center) in Beltsville, Md., has demonstrated the feasibility of soy-oil based biodiesel as a transportation and heating fuel and uses it in all 150 of its diesel vehicles — everything from tractors to snowplows over the past two years.

In addition, the Beltsville Center will heat all of its buildings with biodiesel fuel next winter, including the 14-story National Agricultural Library in Beltsville. The decision was made as a result of last winter's successful experiment with heating a dozen buildings.

Biodiesel is a cleaner burning alternative fuel that can be made by refining any natural oils, including vegetable oil, animal fat and spent cooking oil.

USDA has about 140 diesel fuel tanks on its properties nationwide. The tanks serve about 800 vehicles, including some boats. They also provide fuel for numerous chain saws, generators and other diesel-powered equipment. Over the past two years the U.S. Forest Service has used biodiesel in 15 assorted bulldozers, roadgraders, and trucks located at the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota.