firm spreading the word: mustard
|Post / Jerry
|Scott Hohnstein, owner of
Shoco Oil Inc. of Commerce City, is pumped about Blue
Sun Biodiesel, a company that envisions a mustard-based
biofuels industry that could generate 950
Forget the fabled french-fry grease touted a few years ago as the
fuel of the future for diesel engines.
Mustard is the energy condiment du jour, an up-and-comer in the
quest for clean and renewable biofuels.
Colorado's largest purveyor of diesel fuel made from vegetable
oils has launched a mustard campaign, seeking to convince local
wheat farmers that mustard seed can become a profitable niche
Fort Collins-based Blue Sun Biodiesel envisions a mustard-based
biofuels industry that could produce $178.5 million a year in new
income and generate 950 jobs.
Most biodiesel now being sold in Colorado comes from soybeans
grown in the Midwest. The vegetable-based fuel is renewable, burns
cleaner than petroleum diesel and requires no engine
The benefits have attracted several customers, including school-
district bus fleets and a handful of municipal governments.
But the benefits could grow if oil from Colorado-grown mustard
seed replaced soybean oil as a fuel feedstock, said Jeff Propst,
president and chief executive office of Blue Sun Biodiesel.
Mustard seed, he said, offers these advantages:
A higher oil content, 40 percent, compared with soybeans' 18
Less energy needed to process the oil into fuel. Mustard-seed oil
will yield about 4 units of energy per unit of energy spent in
processing; soybeans yield about 3 units of energy per unit
Better lubricating properties, which may help extend engine
Higher cetane ratings, a measurement of the ignition quality of
the fuel, similar to the octane rating in gasoline.
Improved performance in cold weather. Some biodiesel users have
complained about soy-derived diesel's poor flow qualities in
Better drought tolerance and resistance to heat compared with
soybeans and other oil-bearing crops.
"Best of all, it's going to support Colorado farmers, keep
revenues in the state and build a tax base here," Propst said.
Besides its superiority over soybeans, mustard-seed oil will
perform far better than used cooking oil, a biodiesel feedstock that
has attracted plenty of public attention, he said.
"Waste grease is not high quality, and it has been trivializing
the huge opportunity this industry has," Propst said.
Blue Sun has formed a growers' co-op in Colorado - and another
for Nebraska farmers - in which members can purchase an equity stake
in the fuel company and secure the right to sell their mustard
Each farmer must invest a minimum of $5,000. In exchange, the
farmer can grow up to 200 acres of mustard, sell it to Blue Sun and
receive an annual dividend on the investment.
About 100 Colorado farmers have expressed interest in the co-op,
according to Blue Sun officials.
"We're optimistic about it," said Bennett wheat grower Kent
Kalcevic. "It's not going to make a huge difference in the economics
of agriculture, but it's worth trying."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the co-op a
one-year, $450,000 grant that will give mustard growers an
additional 2.5 cents a pound over the current 9 cents per pound they
would receive for their crop.
That would give farmers estimated net income of $60 an acre the
first year, plus co-op dividends, followed by about $45 an acre in
subsequent years without the USDA price support.
Agricultural scientists view mustard, like dryland wheat, as a
hardy crop that can survive on normal precipitation without the need
Because most wheat growers leave their fields fallow in alternate
years, supporters view mustard as a complementary crop farmers could
grow in fallow wheat fields without severely depleting soil
Kalcevic said he views mustard seed as a crop with potential, but
only if a large-scale market can be developed with heavy consumer
demand that will induce farmers to plant significant acreage.
So far, consumer interest has been low because of biodiesel's
limited availability and its cost. The fuel blend that most
customers prefer - 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum
diesel - costs about 20 cents a gallon more than petroleum diesel
The higher cost would be offset by a 20-cent-per-gallon tax
reduction on biodiesel under a proposal that Congress may consider
in a new energy bill expected to pass early next year.
"From everything I've seen, (mustard-derived diesel) is a
superior fuel to biodiesel from soybeans," Kalcevic said. "But the
only way it's really going to work is if the Front Range gets behind
it and buys millions and millions of gallons of this