Is Biodiesel an Appropriate Technology for Farmers?

iCAST (International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology) is a not-for-profit organization based in Colorado. They work with local partners to develop sustainable solutions to the infrastructure and economic development needs of underserved rural communities. Projects are designed to encourage self-sufficiency based on the development, application and commercialisation of appropriate technologies. iCAST also provides opportunities for university students to learn how academic studies and concepts such as sustainable development can be practically applied to the real-life problems facing disadvantaged communities.

One of these projects has been one focussing on biodiesel as an alternative fuel for farm tractors, to help increase farmers’ profitability, reduces pollution, further energy independence and enhance community development. iCAST looked at the feasibility of biodiesel production from oilseeds such as sunflower, mustard, canola, camelina, and soybeans. They found that economic viability was highly dependant on the external price for vegetable oil, of petro-diesel, and access to markets for meal (the by-product). More results after fold.

The cost of setting up a biodiesel plant ranges between $40,000 and $125,000 USD depending on the quality of machinery chosen. But with such a plant a farmer could expect to get 0.85 gallons of biodiesel from every gallon of oilseed produced. Extracting that oil from seed was another story. Soy bean yield 14% of oil by weight while other oilseed such as sunflower, mustard, camelina or canola can cough up 32%.

See also our Green Basics - Biodiesel primer.

Other iCast projects include: Bio-Energy from Manure, Engineered Briquette, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy with Rural Electric Associations, Small Wind, Solar Thermal Collectors and Waste Utilization of CFLs.

We didn’t read their whole site, but on first run through did wonder where the 'International' part of their name came from, as the obvious projects were all US based. Other appropriate technology organisations we have mentioned elsewhere on the globe include:Practical Action (previously ITDG) and Demotech, both of whom are referenced by iCast on their links page. ::iCast

Tags: Agriculture | Biodiesel | Colorado