Biodiesel’s Contribution to the Modern Food System

There are numerous myths about biofuels, stemming from the ‘food versus fuel’ discussion. That myth suggests people should be eating more fat instead of burning it as fuel, but critics who repeat that mantra have failed to consider the role that protein and a healthy ratio of fat that play in proper nutrition for the world’s growing population.

Biodiesel was developed in the U.S. as a beneficial use for the excess fats and oils created as co-products or byproducts of protein production. Biodiesel uses excess fats and oils from farms to restaurants and generates a low carbon alternative to fossil fuels.

As the world demands more protein, biodiesel plays a more vital role. The most popular byproduct used to produce biodiesel is soybean oil – making up nearly half of U.S. biodiesel production.

Soybeans are the most efficient way to grow protein for the food supply. However, when we grow protein to feed the world, we get more soybean oil than we can possibly consume for food or feed. As the population increases to an estimated 10 billion by 2050, there will be more demand for protein, creating greater volumes of excess oils along supply chains.

Soybeans contain 80 percent protein meal and 20 percent oil. About half of these U.S. soybeans are exported as whole beans. The soybeans that get used in the U.S. are crushed to separate the valuable protein meal from the oil. Of that oil, which is separated in the U.S., only about 70 percent of it can be consumed as food, condiments, or baking and frying. Industrial uses like biodiesel and Bioheat® are necessary to prevent a backup of oil that would disrupt protein production.

Another misconception in the ‘food versus fuel’ conversation is that biodiesel production leads to the clearing of land needed to grow food for our rapidly increasing population.

Farmers are producing more food on less land – increasing yields without increasing the net area of farmland. This is possible due to many reasons including the use of high protein crops like soybeans.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows total farm acreage has decreased by 23 million acres since 2007. Meaning farmers have become more efficient in providing consumers with both food and fuel. In fact, this more efficient use of land may not have been possible without the economic advantage of using excess fats and oils for biodiesel.

Soy serves as a good example of how producing protein for the world food supply results in more fat calories than we can consume as food. This same dynamic is at play when we use animal fats, used cooking oil, and other vegetable oils to produce biodiesel. Today, few crops are grown specifically for biodiesel production. The commercial biodiesel produced today all results as a byproduct of producing protein for the food supply.

However, farming cannot truly be sustainable without the next generation. One of the ways agriculturalists today are preparing for that next generation is through implementing biodiesel in their farming implements. Farmers are fueling up with biodiesel in their work trucks, on farm equipment, and semi-trucks. This means, farmers today are not only decreasing their inputs to produce a crop, they are also creating cleaner air to breathe. Biodiesel reduces lifecycle greenhouse gases by 86 percent, lowers particulate matter by 47 percent, and decreases hydrocarbon emissions by 67 percent. These numbers make biodiesel a good investment in the future for farmers nationwide.

Food and fuel work together in harmony. Most importantly, biodiesel enhances the world’s protein supply. With biodiesel we are increasing available protein, reducing food waste, and contributing to a cleaner environment for the future population.

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