NDSU researchers study canola biodiesel

By | June 01, 2005
After North Dakota Biodiesel Inc. announced plans to construct the continent's largest biodiesel facility in Minot, N.D., North Dakota State University (NDSU) has begun a canola-to-biodiesel research study. NDSU's North Central Research Extension Center is conducting the study in Minot, near where North Dakota Biodiesel is poised to begin construction of its 32 mmgy canola-fed biodiesel plant.

NDSU's Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department obtained 300 gallons of canola oil from Archer Daniels Midland Co. and transesterified the oil to canola fatty acid methyl esters. A B20 blend will power two or three test tractors during the state's growing season, and a variety of aspects will be studied, including emissions outputs, engine performance and cold flow properties.

In NDSU's AE-1240 report on biodiesel, extension agricultural engineer Vern Hofman said, "North Dakota farmers use a considerable amount of diesel fuel in their farming operations. An alternate fuel supply could be extremely helpful to stabilize fuel prices, especially when fuel prices are fluctuating."

Although soybean oil is the primary feedstock for most commercial biodiesel produced in the United States-due to the abundance of soybean acres throughout much of the Midwest-NDSU remains focused on canola because canola crops outnumber any other feedstock option in the Minot area. Kent McKay, an area extension specialist, said North Dakota cultivates most of the canola grown in the United States.

Results of another NDSU project are likely to have a marked impact on the biodiesel industry as well. NDSU researcher Dhruv Tapasvi presented a unique research tool at the American Oil Chemists' Society conference in early May. The process-modeling tool analyzes the economics of various available feedstocks used in a variety of different production processes within specified parameters. The tool is spreadsheet-based and many "default" values-like 98 percent transesterification efficiency-come already plugged into the equations. Tapasvi said the tool is available to interested producers and future producers.
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