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CSU Extension supports development of on-farm biofuel

March 25, 2011

CSU Extension has partnered with oilseed processing facility, The Big Squeeze, to boost on-farm biofuel production in Southeast Colorado's Lower Arkansas Valley.

Camelina trials.Research support

More than $56,000 in state renewable energy grants have helped The Big Squeeze improve biofuel quality. Perry Cabot, a water resources specialist with Extension and the Colorado Water Institute, helped acquire the funding to support this research.

Cabot also was instrumental in helping The Big Squeeze overcome infrastructure issues that limited production. He is based at CSU-Pueblo and conducts research and programming on water use and water quality issues, mostly in the Arkansas River Basin and San Luis Valley.

A big crush

At full capacity, The Big Squeeze facility crushes 25 tons of oilseed, such as sunflower and canola, into 2,500 gallons of straight vegetable oil (SVO) and 30,000 pounds of high-protein meal in 24 hours. United Feeders, a cattle feedlot where the operation is located, buys the crushed biomass for meal.

“This plant is one of the most efficient fuel production facilities anywhere,” says farmer Hal Holder, referring to the savings that The Big Squeeze and United Feeders realize from eliminating transportation costs. Holder owns the Big Squeeze along with fellow farmers Joel Lundquist and Rick Young.

The Big Squeeze operates as a cooperative. Farmers pay $50 per ton to have their oilseed crushed into SVO, which they can use however they choose.

The Big Squeeze farmer-owners blend the SVO with regular unleaded gas (RUG) at a ratio of three parts SVO to one part RUG. The novel fuel mixture, which they call biofuel-diesel, runs their trucks and farm equipment.

Biofuel quality makes a difference to farmers like Rich Young, Joel Lundquist and Hal Holder, shown here outside The Big Squeeze.As good as diesel

Grant dollars have helped The Big Squeeze test biofuel-diesel horsepower, engine efficiency and air quality emissions at CSU’s Engines and Energy Conversion Lab. The lab will begin an expanded battery of engine durability testing in 2011.

The first round of biofuel-diesel tests on a common rail engine show a 10 percent reduction in power, compared to commercial grade diesel, at maximum load. Results also show comparable emissions.

Farmers who use the blend find it a perfectly suitable alternative to diesel since they don’t regularly operate machinery at maximum loads. According to Holder, farmers who use the blend report better engine performance and gas mileage.

Next steps

Extension, through Cabot, will continue advancing SVO production by evaluating the economics of the whole farm system. The Big Squeeze partners hope to replicate their production model at other feedlots in Colorado and beyond, and expand their flagship co-op concept.

“We know enough now that we can size one of these to fit the needs of any feed lot,” Holder says.

For Cabot, oilseed production is related to future water use. As early as 2014, area farmers will begin leasing a percentage of their water rights to Front Range cities.

Cabot, along with other CSU researchers, propose that farmers could think about using limited irrigation practices to grow oilseed crops on temporarily fallowed land. He is working with the Arkansas Valley Research Center to find the best yielding varieties for the region.

“Farmers are under a lot of pressure these days, especially with volatile fuel prices and competition for water resources. So, local fuel production is a reliable tool for handling these pressures. It’s fundamentally about independence.”

Contact: Carol Busch, Impact Writer, CSU Extension
Phone: (970) 491-4257