Redwood Falls, Minn. – Just in time for the harvest, this fall Minnesotans could be filling their truck and tractor tanks with biodiesel – the first produced in the state.

Farmers Union Marketing and Processing Association is sourcing equipment for a biodiesel refinery it expects to open in September at FUMPA’s Central Bi-Products rendering plant in Redwood Falls. The refinery’s annual capacity will be 2.8 million gallons.

“We anticipate starting with virgin, refined vegetable oils,” says Chuck Neece, Central Bi-Products research and development director. “Once the system is refined, we intend to begin using other fats and oils from our rendering operation.”

FUMPA has three divisions: Commodity Trading Company, FUMPA Fuels, which will produce the biodiesel, and Central Bi-Products, a full-service rendering company. Most of the animal materials and feathers processed by Central Bi-Products end up as feed ingredients such as feed-fats, proteins, pet foods, and meat, bone and feather meal. Rendered fats and oils are also suitable feedstocks for biodiesel production.

FUMPA is no rookie on the biofuels scene. Already a member of the National Biodiesel Board, the company has been involved in Minnesota’s biofuels industry for years, realizing the value-added potential for the rendering company.

Concern over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – mad cow disease – is also spurring interest in new uses for rendered products. Animal byproducts such as meat and bone meal have come under scrutiny as feed ingredients over concerns they may spread the disease.

“We’ve had general interest in biodiesel development because we are an ag company,” Neece says. “We’ve also been monitoring BSE and how it has affected activity in byproducts. With biodiesel, we would have an outlet for (animal byproducts) if the market reacted negatively to the use of those products (in feed).”

FUMPA will meet about a third of the 8-million-gallon in-state production required before a Minnesota biodiesel mandate can take effect. Under the mandate, all diesel sold in the state must contain a 2-percent biodiesel blend by June 2005 if the capacity is in place.

Neece says he has been asking area cooperatives how much biodiesel they would be willing to purchase. So far, the co-ops have spoken for 2 million of the plant’s 2.8 million gallon capacity.

While vegetable oils, particularly soybeans, are biodiesel’s primary feedstocks, AURI fats and oils scientist Max Norris says reclaimed greases and recycled fats also work. “There’s room for both at the party. All the fuels have to meet the same standards, it makes no difference the (oil) source,” Norris says.

Reclaimed greases may be needed “as we move into fuels with higher percentages of biodiesel,” Norris says.

Each feedstock, whether oil from canola, soybeans, animal fats or reclaimed grease, has its “own minor characteristics, some positive and some negative,” depending on the blend desired, Neece says.

“What everyone is looking for is a product with long-term stability, good lubricity and suitable cold flow properties.”