Montana State University

Ag marketing center gives producers tools to "pencil out" biofuel options

January 8, 2008 -- By Carol Flaherty


Joel Schumacher   High-Res Available

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Even though there's a lot of buzz about biodiesel fuel, it's difficult for producers to get quality information to decide whether they want to pursue bio-energy crops. A new Montana State University Extension associate specialist's work is helping clarify the choices.

In a series of one- to four-page documents, Joel Schumacher and other MSU economists have described many of the facts and alternatives agricultural producers have to consider. They've put that information onto the MSU Agricultural Marketing Policy Center's web site.

"There are other sites that give producers information on how to produce and use biodiesel," Schumacher said. "We've put information together to help producers decide whether or not the effort will be worth it for them."

Schumacher says producers need to decide where they fit into the biodiesel system. Do they want to produce an oilseed crop, or produce the crop and process it into oil; or produce the crop and process into oil and fuel?

One supporter of the project is Bruce Bainbridge, an economist at Dawson Community College in Glendive. Bainbridge, who manages the DCC Clean Fuels Wired Grant, said he has been using the materials Schumacher has put on the Web to help individuals who are considering biofuels production.

"Biodiesel has a lot of positive qualities," Bainbridge says. "If we can produce biofuels in the neighborhood, and keep the (leftover) feed for our livestock, we can cut out the freight on both sides of the equation."

He adds that the Ag Marketing Policy Center's "decision software is very useful." The spreadsheets, developed by Schumacher and MSU Extension's Duane Griffith, are "structured so that producers can use them."

One of the hurdles producers face if they want to produce their own biodiesel is determining whether their manufacturing process has yielded a fuel that meets quality standards. Schumacher said that the processes are not too difficult, but fine tuning a system to consistently meet standards is important. The standards are set to ensure that biodiesel is safe for engines.

Having biodiesel fuel certified to federal standards can cost $1,300 to $1,500, said Greg Kegel, dean of MSU-Northern's College of Technical Sciences. That is why the Montana State Legislature appropriated $250,000 to create a testing facility at MSU-Northern. Kegel said he expects the Bio-Energy Innovation and Testing Center to open in late March and to "begin certifying fuel for Montana producers at around half the going rate."

In addition to having information on the Web, Schumacher said he expects to present the materials in a series of seminars and conferences throughout the winter, as well as in college and university classes.

People interested in signing up for the training can check on the web at: http://www.ampc.montana.edu/energyinformation.html or contact Schumacher at (406) 994-6637. To follow information on the testing facility at MSU-Northern, check at http://bioenergytestingcenter.com or contact Jessica Alcorn Windy-Boy at (406) 265-4199.

MSU Extension has also formed an Energy Team that includes county agents and specialists who will work on energy related issues. The team includes Sara Hamlen, an Extension area economic development coordinator, Tom Allen in Liberty County, Wade Crouch in Cascade County, Dan Picard in Pondera County, Terry Angvick in Sheridan County, Damon Bunting of Glacier County, Judee Wargo in Chouteau County, Eric Miller in Garfield County, Community Development Specialist Paul Lachapelle, and Area Value Added Specialist Chet Hill.

Contact: Joel Schumacher (406) 994-6637 or jschumacher@montana.edu