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Sustainability: Dairymen look at homemade biodiesel

PD Staff Writer Ariel Waldeck Published on 11 October 2011


In today’s society many things get replaced even if they still work. Dairyman Jake Wedeberg of Gays Mills, Wisconsin, wants to know why farmers are looking into hydrogen, compressed natural gas and electric tractors when the diesel engine is still working effectively.



“The original diesel engine that Rudolph Diesel designed was made to run on peanut oil,” Wedeberg says. “His idea was to be self-sufficient on your own farm. Now, 100 years later, we are going back to that same idealism.”

As the on-farm sustainability coordinator for Organic Valley Co-op, Wedeberg is passionate about finding new ways to implement renewable resources on as many farms within the farmer-owned co-op as possible.

“Farmers are interested in using renewable energy and being self-sufficient,” Wedeberg explains. “If you produce it right on the farm, you know how much it costs you to produce it. It is one less check to write at the end of the month.”

Seed grower Dan Sharp of Sharp Brothers Seed Company in Healy, Kansas, also switched over to using biodiesel to see if he could save some money on fuel for farm equipment.

Both Sharp and Wedeberg have purchased biodiesel processors from Springboard Biodiesel . Matt Roberts, vice president of marketing for the company, explains how the system works.


“The machines are fully automated,” Roberts says. “It is designed to be as easy to do as possible. It is like a washing machine. You load the machine up with chemicals; you turn it on and press start. From that point on, it basically shepherds the entire process.”

Sharp says the system is mostly foolproof. The company buys the premeasured catalyst; the only thing farmers have to measure is the methanol. Methanol, along with sodium or potassium hydroxide and sulfuric acid, are all needed to ensure a sufficient chemical reaction to produce biodiesel.

Sharp said there are no cons that he has seen with the biodiesel-making machine.

“As long as the process is carried through completely, there are no problems,” Sharp says. “We test every batch to make sure everything is all right.”

Wedeberg cautions producers about the blend of biodiesel they run in their engines, especially in the wintertime.

“You just have to be a good manager and understand the different biodiesel blends you put in your tractor, especially with the cold Wisconsin winters,” Wedeberg explains.


The line of processors Wedeberg and Sharp use have the capability to create ASTM-grade fuel. This is the gold standard for biofuel.

Once producers have used all the biodiesel on their farms, they can legally sell what is left over to other producers. Roberts says most producers produce just enough biodiesel to use on their own farms.

Roberts says the BioPro 190 is the processor that is the most popular. It produces 50 gallons of biodiesel every 48 hours. There are five processors within this line, and prices range from $7,000 to $20,000.

Buying the more expensive processor will allow farmers to produce more biodiesel. For example, one of the company’s larger machines will produce 100 gallons of biodiesel every 24 hours.

Organic Valley Co-op, of which Wedeberg serves as the on-farm sustainability coordinator, owns a biodiesel processor that produces 100 gallons of fuel every 48 hours. Sharp Brothers Seed owns three processors; combined they can produce 250 gallons of biodiesel every 48 hours.

“Most of our users convert waste cooking oil because that is what is readily available,” Roberts says. “If you load the waste cooking oil into our machine, you will make ASTM-grade biodiesel for 95 cents per gallon, if you get the cooking oil for free. About 93 percent of our customers use waste cooking oil.”

Wedeberg grows sunflowers for his oil source, while Sharp uses canola oil. Roberts points out that this is one of the benefits to biodiesel over ethanol.

Biodiesel does not have to use food crops to produce fuel. Since biodiesel can be made from a variety of non-food-grade crops, it is less criticized than ethanol for creating a food-versus-fuel dilemma.

Both Sharp and Wedeberg are pleased with how their engines run on biodiesel.

“Biodiesel just burns cleaner. The motors seem to burn cleaner, too,” Sharp says. “Sometimes we have to run them in the shop to work on the tractors. You don’t get the noxious fumes as much. The engines seem to run quieter.”

“Biodiesel adds lubricity to your motor,” Wedeberg says. “Your engine runs cooler, you don’t hear the knocking noise, and it reduces wear on your engine. It smells like you are frying something while you are driving.”

Wedeberg and his brother are fifth-generation dairy farmers. Their farm has been an organic, grazing dairy since 1988. The Wedeberg family milks 62 cows and grows several types of forages and crops to remain self-sufficient and sustainable, even in difficult economic times.

Wedeberg wants to help other farmers become more self-sufficient and sustainable on their own farms. This is why he says he uses an invention that still works the way it was intended to work, by just making a few modifications of his own.

“We already have the diesel engine – we just have to change the [fuel] source,” Wedeberg says. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request to .