Southern Illinois University
Agricultural Science (PhD Student)

James Anderson’s passion for soybean research may convince you he grew up on a farm, but the truth is he’s a rambling man. He’s spent much of his life on the road, first as the son of musicians in the U.S. Army Band, then as a semi-truck driver.

Unsure of his career path, at the age of 21 he began working 70 hours a week as a truck driver, passing through 47 of the lower 48 states.

Then, a friend convinced him to go back to college. He enrolled in a community college to study biology, and later transferred to Southern Illinois University where he is now pursuing a doctorate in agricultural science.

Anderson continued to work as a truck driver to put himself through college, where he learned about biodiesel and talked to mechanics about it. All of those hours behind the wheel of a diesel semi, during a time when biodiesel was beginning a rise to prominence, planted a seed in his mind about his academic path. What if he could contribute to the body of research on soybean oil as a biodiesel feedstock?

“I’m interested in breeding soybeans with different fatty acid profiles, which can affect the oil’s properties that make it good for biodiesel use,” Anderson said. “By using soybeans with acid profiles that favor high energy production in breeding projects, populations of soybeans with even higher energy yield and improved stability can be achieved.”

In 2014, after attending the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo on a scholarship, Anderson was selected as a co-chair for the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel. He says he is interested in collaborating with other biodiesel scientists to incorporate new research ideas. As it happens, fellow co-chair Mike Morgan’s research at Utah State University has relevance to Anderson’s research – exactly the kind of interaction the program is intended to foster.

He’s also eager to spread awareness of the success and importance of biodiesel.

“Biodiesel is one of the best biofuels I’ve seen,” Anderson said. “It has a positive energy balance and lower emissions than diesel; we don’t have to use foreign oil, and it uses up excess soybean oil. It seems like a no-brainer.”

Anderson hopes to submit his research to the USDA and apply for a professorship so that he may continue his research in plant breeding and mutagenesis. He has also been involved with the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, and the American Society for Horticultural Science.

The United Soybean Board and the soybean checkoff support the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel program.

Email James Anderson