Peanuts fueling tractors in Sunbelt research plots

The USDA’s National Peanut Research Laboratory in cooperation with Yancey Tractor Company and Kelley Manufacturing Company, will demonstrate the use of biodiesel fuel made from Georgia-grown peanuts at the Sunbelt Ag Expo this year.

“Yancey has provided us with a tractor to demonstrate peanut biodiesel all summer on our research farm.” notes Wilson Faircloth, an agronomist at the USDA’s National Peanut Research Laboratory at Dawson, Ga. The peanut-powered tractors have performed flawlessly, he says.

At the expo, Yancey will be coordinating the Challenger tractor display. “We will have at least two and probably three Challenger tractors in the field demonstrating KMC's peanut harvesting and digging equipment. These tractors will be fueled by a B20 fuel (20 percent peanut biodiesel, 80 percent petroleum diesel),” Faircloth explains.

The National Peanut Research Lab (NPRL) will have informational displays at the Challenger location and at the KMC booth, and will have personnel available to direct those interested in taking field tours, where they can see and smell the peanut fuel in action.

Faircloth’s research at the NPRL has focused on how to grow peanuts profitably for the biofuel market. Technology is not an issue — peanut biodiesel is easy to make and highly efficient. The real challenge is how to do it profitably, when peanuts and peanut oil are in high demand and therefore have high value at the farm gate, Faircloth says.

To make peanut biodiesel more cost-competitive, Faircloth’s research team is testing low-input systems. “We are utilizing technology such as conservation-tillage and selecting varieties with high tolerance to multiple diseases. We currently have 19 varieties in our biodiesel screening project, both irrigated and non-irrigated,” the Georgia researcher says.

“These peanuts are planted and grown, and with the exception of a single (albeit timely) herbicide application, we walked away from them to see just what they could do. It has been a very interesting project and is really pushing the boundaries of peanut science,” Faircloth contends.

Faircloth’s plots last year yielded 2,600 pounds per acre of farmer stock peanuts. These peanuts produced about 1,000 pounds of oil. He says a ton of farmer stock peanuts will yield more than 100 gallons of 100-percent biodiesel, which may be blended with petroleum diesel such as demonstrated at the recent Sunbelt Expo Field Day with a B50 fuel (50-percent bio-based fuel).

The primary oil used in the U.S. to make biodiesel fuel is soy oil. Traditionally grown peanuts can produce approximately 120 to 130 gallons of biodiesel per acre, compared to 50 gallons for soy oil. The problem is peanut oil on the world market is more valuable than soy oil, making conversion to biodiesel economically impractical, if both crops are grown under current management practices.

Georgia Brown is a commercially grown peanut that is high in oil content but not good for commercial oil. Georganic is a test variety that is high in oil, low in input costs, and not suitable for commercial use. Georganic or similar varieties will likely be the future of peanut biodiesel, according to Daniel Geller, a research engineer at the University of Georgia, who is working with Faircloth’s research team.

In addition to peanuts and soybeans, canola and other seed crops are being tested for use in biodiesel fuels. Biodiesel fuels have a big advantage over corn-based ethanol fuels because they require no changes to the conventional diesel engine. Ethanol, though it will run in most gas-powered engines, loses significant energy without special adaptations to the engine.

Visitors to the 2006 Sunbelt Expo will see the cutting edge of technology in many areas of agriculture, including the conversion of peanuts to a viable fuel for transportation.

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