Ethanol and soy biodiesel have become major markets for Nebraska corn and soybeans—and are providing significant economic, environmental and consumer benefits. In recognition of the importance of renewable biofuels to the state, Governor Pete Ricketts has proclaimed May as Renewable Fuels Month in Nebraska.
Nebraska is the nation’s second largest ethanol producer, home to 25 ethanol plants with the capacity of more than two billion gallons of production. These plants, which employ more than 1,300 people, process more than 700 million bushels of corn a year into clean-burning ethanol as well as distillers grains, a high protein feed ingredient for livestock. Some Nebraska ethanol plants also produce carbon dioxide for bottling and food processing as well as corn oil for human food consumption.
Biodiesel production, which uses soybeans as a primary feedstock, is on the rise in Nebraska. A biodiesel plant in Beatrice is expected to begin commercial operation in 2016 with the capacity to produce 50 million gallons, requiring more than 33 million bushels of soybeans.
“Renewable biofuels have absolutely transformed the economic landscape in Nebraska,” said Ron Pavelka, a farmer from Glenvil and chairman of the Nebraska Soybean Board. “The additional demand for Nebraska commodities created by renewable fuels production has created a new market for farmers, generated significant investment and tax revenue in rural communities, and created good paying jobs in areas of the state that really need them.”
“The growth of renewable biofuels has helped reduce our nation’s dependence on imported petroleum, reduced prices at the pump and provided greater choice for consumers,” said David Merrell, a farmer from St. Edward and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “But perhaps the most important benefit of these fuels is their dramatically positive impact on the environment and on human health.”
For example, biodiesel reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 67 percent and reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by 86 percent compared to its petroleum based counterpart. The 2.1 billion gallons of biodiesel used in 2015 reduced the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by 18.2 million metric tons, the equivalent of removing 3.8 million cars from the road or planting 466 million trees.
Ethanol is a non-toxic, clean-burning fuel that dramatically reduces the level of toxics added to gasoline to increase octane, including proven and suspected carcinogens such as benzene, toluene and xylene. “Since these toxics do not completely combust in the engine, they enter the atmosphere through exhaust emissions and are directly connected to cancer, heart disease and asthma in humans,” Merrell added. “The more ethanol we add to gasoline, the lower the levels of these harmful toxics in the air we breathe.”
According to the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, some 70 percent of harmful air pollution is attributable to mobile sources such as passenger vehicles, trucks, buses and construction equipment. “When consumers choose renewable biofuels at the pump, they are not only saving money and supporting a homegrown fuel, they are also making the choice for a better environment and cleaner, healthier air for their families,” Pavelka said.