Minneapolis, Minn. — Standing for years against the constant barrage of wind, rain, ice and snow, utility poles are hardly noticed unless they fail due to storms or rot. For millions of Americans, the simple wooden pole is a reminder that their electrical power and important phone calls will be delivered.
Now soybeans may play a larger role in ensuring utility poles stand their vigil for decades.
To make a log into a utility pole that can survive the elements for as many as 80 years requires wood preservatives. Typically, the preservative DT-40 is delivered to wood using a liquid carrier made from off-stream petroleum products with strong odors. The carriers help the preservative stick to the poles.
Odor complaints prompted one Minnesota lumber company to use a 20-percent biodiesel blend (B20) carrier to reduce odors. For the past several years, the company has used significant amounts of biodiesel — one of the biggest nonfuel uses in the state — and substantially reduced odor emissions. However, wood preservative trade association members have challenged the use of biodiesel as a treatment carrier.
AURI and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council are supporting a year-long research project on using biodiesel as a carrier agent. Positive results could help support current biodiesel use and trigger new markets.
“This is a substantial opportunity to open a good, additional market for biodiesel beyond conventional transportation uses,” says Dennis Timmerman, AURI project director.
Fuel consultant Hoon Ge of MEG Corp is conducting the research, which started in August
, and will evaluate the rates of biodiesel leaching from wood and wood decay. He will also test underlying soils and biodiesel blends of 20, 30, 40 and 50 to find the optimal inclusion rate.
“Every indication is that there is no problem with using biodiesel,” Ge says. “But we need to make sure that people get the right information and not myths because the potential for using biodiesel in this application is tremendous.”
If adopted throughout the wood preservative industry, biodiesel’s use could swell by millions of gallons, impacting the price of soybeans.
“Some estimates have shown that biodiesel supports the price of soybeans by as much as three dollars per bushel,” Timmerman says. “Biodiesel supporters and soybean producers are understandably excited about this opportunity.”
Tests results should be complete in the fall 2011