Engine lubrication, improved air quality and less U.S. reliance on foreign oil are all benefits of biodiesel created from soybeans. And those characteristics have helped launch biodiesel production and use on an upward trend.

But there's a lot of ground yet to be covered. The latest Department of Energy figures show farm use of diesel fuel is at 3.6 billion gallons per year — and 51 million bushels of beans (or 71.6 million gallons of pure biodiesel) would be used annually if every soybean farmer used a B2 blend of soy biodiesel (2% soy biodiesel and 98% petroleum diesel).

To tap that potential, soybean growers, through the soybean checkoff, have developed a $1.5 million campaign to encourage more farmers to use biodiesel on their farms and ask distributors to carry the fuel where it's not currently available.

“By creating demand for B2 or higher biodiesel blends, farmers can help make sure petroleum distributors are equipped to provide biodiesel to the public on a broad scale,” says Bob Metz, president of the National Biodiesel Board and a South Dakota soybean farmer. “By using biodiesel ourselves, we can help biodiesel continue the momentum of this successful commercial industry.”

Several school districts across the nation are also looking at biodiesel because of the cleaner air properties it offers for children riding school buses. To help boost demand, the federal government has also been a large consumer of biofuels, and the 2002 Farm Bill provides for preferred procurement of bio-based products by federal agencies.

Despite that support, Congress failed to reach a compromise on a new energy bill in 2002. The proposed legislation for a Renewable Fuels Standard in the bill had called for the use of as much as 5 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel in the next decade.

However, states are passing their own similar legislation, which will help boost biofuel usage. By June 2005, Minnesota will require a 2% blend of vegetable oil or animal fat biodiesel with diesel fuel. While it's the first state to mandate a biodiesel blend, it is unlikely to be the last.