Down-home biodiesel

Missouri is a long way from the Middle East, but the Oelrichs family farm near Mora has struck oil. Soybean oil, that is. Feeling the squeeze of $4-per-gallon diesel a couple of years ago, they decided to put the squeeze on some of their homegrown soybeans and use the oil to make their own biodiesel.

“We burn it as straight B100,” explains Tom Oelrichs. He and his brother, Randy, and Randy’s son, Russ, operate a 120-cow dairy and farm 1,200 acres, growing corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa along with grassland on this century farm in southeast Pettis County.

“We don’t burn B100 when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, because it tends to gel in the winter. So we are making biodiesel now to stockpile for use during our planting season, when we burn more fuel. We hope to have about 2,500 gallons ready to go by spring.”

The Oelrichs family searched the Web and found that German farmers were using mechanical screw presses to squeeze oilseeds, collecting the oil for biodiesel production and using the byproduct, the oilseed meal, for animal feed.

Key Points

• A Pettis County farm produces its own biodiesel for tractors.

• Mechanical screw presses were bought to make biodiesel.

• The process also results in dairy byproduct supplements.

“In our situation, we are making soybean meal that contains about 7% fat and runs about 46% protein,” Oelrichs says. “It’s an excellent feed source, especially for dairy cattle. It fits well in our rations.”

In the process of making biodiesel, there’s another byproduct produced: glycerin. “It’s separated from the soybean oil, and we distill it and drizzle it into the TMR feed mixer,” he adds. “The glycerin provides additional energy.”

The Oelrichses built a two-story shed to house the biodiesel-making operation. Each mechanical screw press (they now operate two) is capable of producing about 15 gallons of soybean oil per day. The oil cascades downward through a series of barrels, where fines settle. The pure oil enters a 275-gallon chemical tote. It’s then mixed with a recipe of catalysts (methanol and potassium hydroxide), and enters a reaction chamber (a salvaged stainless-steel bulk tank) where the oil is heated to around 130 degrees F and stirred for a couple of hours. In the final step, the glycerin separates from the soybean oil and is drained from the chamber.

There’s an upfront investment for the pressing and refining setup, as the press itself runs about $8,000. While diesel prices have eased in recent months, the Oelrichses believe the economics are hard to beat. “We typically would haul our soybeans to town and buy soybean meal to haul home for use in our feed rations,” Oelrichs says. “We spend about 75 cents a gallon on the additives that it requires to make biodiesel.”


ENERGY-EFFICIENT: Tom Oelrichs takes advantage of winter down time to make biodiesel and other byproducts from his farm’s soybean crop.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.