The U.S. Senate recently passed new energy legislation, which includes Sen. Maria Cantwell's plan to dramatically expand bio-fuel production in Washington state and around the country.
In Sunnyside, the push to expand the production of bio-fuel is already well underway.
For the past several years, Ted Durfey of Emerald Ranches and Natural Selection Farms has been working with representatives from the University of Washington to try to make bio-fuel a viable farm commodity in the Yakima Valley.
Unlike the bio-fuel manufactured in the Midwest, which is created from soybean oil, Durfey has been working to make canola oil-based bio-fuel. He added the canola is a crop that can easily be grown in the Yakima Valley, noting that it requires very minimal irrigation to grow.
This year, Durfey explained that he planted 100 acres of canola on his property and has plans to have 2,100 acres of canola by 2008. Durfey said that he has been working at M & E Seed and Grain of Prosser to try to create contracts with other farmers to grow the canola needed to make bio-fuel.
Durfey explained that besides offering contracts, M & E Seed and Grain would clean and store the canola seed and would then transfer the seed to a crushing facility where the canola would begin the process of being transformed into bio-fuel.
A report prepared by Cantwell's office explained that growing the crops necessary to create bio-fuel in Washington state will help lower the price of the product.
According to the report, one of the reasons bio-fuel costs more at the pump is because the bio-diesel currently be used is being shipped in from the Midwest. The cost of shipping in the product is estimated to increase the cost at the pump by up to 50¢ per gallon.
The report states that "...researchers from Washington State University estimate that the state has the capacity to produce 200 million gallons of ethanol from wheat straw, and up to 1.2 billion gallons with technology improvements." According to the report, "...bio-diesel is another emerging opportunity for Washington state farmers, using canola and yellow mustard. These crops are particularly well-suited for Washington state, providing high yields without irrigation."
Durfey explained that growing canola in the Yakima Valley would help to eventually drive down the cost of bio-fuel at the pumps. But that isn't the entire answer to making bio-fuel more affordable.
The next step for Durfey is to construct a bio-fuel manufacturing facility on his farm. He explained that by this fall he plans to have a seed crushing operation in place, which will take the canola seeds and separate the canola oil from the meal. He noted that the meal can then be sold to dairies for feed.
Separating the canola oil from the meal is the first phase of bio-fuel production. Durfey said although the raw canola oil is not bio-fuel, it is still a marketable product. He added that after the crushing operation is completed he will begin working on constructing the remainder of the bio-diesel manufacturing facility, which includes the actual processing of the oil.
The processing of the oil, or transesterification, separates the glycerin out of the canola oil, leaving bio-diesel. Durfey explained that the bio-diesel is traditionally mixed with regular diesel to create a 20 percent bio-diesel blend, which can be used to operate anything that runs on diesel fuel. He said a bio-diesel mix is needed because pure bio-diesel has a tendency to gel at low temperatures. A blend is also preferable because when run through an engine bio-diesel acts as a cleaner, and pure bio-diesel would clog up filters with dirt and grime being cleaned out from the engine.
According to Durfey, the 100 acres of canola he is harvesting this year has the capability of creating 18,153 gallons of bio-diesel.