News Exploring the Potential of Alabama Oil Fields

Exploring the Potential of Alabama Oil Fields

Exploring the Potential of Alabama Oil Fields
November 30, 2004 |

Dennis Bragg isn’t among the
American soldiers serving in
Iraq, but the Madison County
farmer is doing his part to support
the troops by burning biodiesel in
his farm machinery.”I have a friend
who made the choice
to go to Baghdad,”
Bragg said. “He’s doing something I can’t do.
But what I can do is
choose not to buy oil
from Iraq. I can choose
to produce soybeans
and make my own
oil.”That’s exactly what
Bragg and more than a
dozen other Alabama
farmers did this year
when they agreed to use biodiesel
in their tractors and combines as
part of a project funded by the
Alabama Department of Economic
and Community Affairs (ADECA).”This project was set up to not
only inform (farmers about renewable
fuels) but to stimulate the use
of biodiesel,” Bragg said. “It’s a
new technology, and not everybody
knows about it. What we wanted
to do was get some of it into equipment
in different places where people
are using it and are satisfied
with it. The more we get the word
out, the quicker it will catch on.
I’m choosing to use it now to show
everybody else the possibilities.”And the possibilities
are tremendous,
said Mark Hall, an
Alabama Cooperative
Extension System
regional agent who is
coordinating the
statewide biodiesel initiative.According to Hall,
Alabama farmers use
more than 12 million
gallons of diesel fuel a
year. Since a bushel of
soybeans will yield
about 1.5 gallons of
biodiesel, consumption of soybeans
could increase by 1.6 million
bushels a year, if all farmers used a
20-percent biodiesel blend in their
engines.For the ADECA project, each
farmer was given 500 gallons of
biodiesel to use in his equipment.
Bragg is burning a blend of 10 percent
biodiesel and 90 percent petroleum
diesel. He’s so convinced of
the product’s benefits, however,
that he plans to continue burning
biodiesel at higher concentrations
even after the project ends.”I’ll use it for the rest of my
life, and my son will use it for his,”
Bragg said. “So, the first 500 gallons
were free, but the next
360,000 gallons will come out of
my pocket.”Hall said the blended
fuel costs about a penny
more per gallon for every
percent biodiesel used. But
Bragg said that investment
could pay big dividends for
farmers–and the economy–
by increasing demand
for soybeans.”If I burn my own soybeans,
and the price of soybeans
is 10 more cents a
bushel because I’m consuming
more, then I’ll make
more (money). What would
I do with it? I wouldn’t go
bury it in a hole. I’d call John
Deere and say ‘send me another
combine.’ John Deere would then
hire five more people, and those
five more people would go to Wal-
Mart and buy more things. It stimulates
the economy,” Bragg said.”To put it into perspective, if we don’t do this, that
money is going to be
spent. But, it’s going
to be spent in Saudi
Arabia, and it benefits
the Saudi
Arabian economy,”
Bragg added. “(You
have to) make a
choice. Who do you
want to help, yourself
of someone else?
For me, the choice is
easy.”Madison County
Farmers Federation
Board Member Roger
Jones agrees. He
recently helped
secure a “Farm-to-
Fleet” grant from the
Alabama Soybean
Commission to purchase
biodiesel for use in the vehicles
operated by Madison County
Commission District One, where
he serves as commissioner.”With the world situation the
way it is, we need to look for alternative
fuels. And with crude oil at
$54 a barrel (in October), we need
to look at more economical fuels,”
Jones said. “This will allow us to
try biodiesel. Hopefully, it will
work, and it will lead to some sort
of program where we can use it in
the future.”One of the driving forces behind
projects like Farm-to-Fleet and the
one funded by ADECA is the environmental
benefit associated with
burning biodiesel. Hall noted that
the use of biodiesel in conventional
diesel engines results in substantial
reductions of unburned hydrocarbons,
carbon monoxide and particulate
matter when compared with
petroleum-based diesel fuel.”It also smells better,” Hall
said. “Biodiesel users literally are
able to breathe more easily while
operating their equipment.”In addition, Bragg said biodiesel
is better for tractor engines because
it contains more natural lubricants,
and it works as a solvent to clean
up dirty fuel systems. More importantly,
biodiesel blends can be
burned in conventional diesel
engines without any modifications–
though Bragg notes
extremely high concentrations of
the product may reveal leaks
because engine seals aren’t built to
handle such a high-caliber fuel.”That’s the beauty of this product.
You really don’t have to
change anything other than your
mind,” he said. “You have to make
a conscious decision to spend a little
bit extra to gain five times the
benefit.”Unfortunately, even if farmers
choose to use biodiesel, they may
find it difficult to
locate a supplier. As
demand increases,
however, Bragg
believes more farm
supply stores will
stock biodiesel. He’s
also hopeful the
Energy Bill now
pending in Congress
will provide tax
incentives to farmers
who use the product,
which could offset
any additional cost.Meanwhile,
ADECA is exploring
other ways farmers
can utilize alternative
fuels and conserve
energy. Russell
Moore, who works in
the agency’s Science,
Technology and Energy Division,
said the City of Eufaula already is
using biodiesel made from restaurant
grease to power its school
buses, and some poultry growers
are burning used motor oil to heat
poultry houses. The agency also is
studying how global positioning
technology can be used to reduce
the number of trips farmers have to
make across their fields, and another
project is aimed at improving
oxygen monitoring in catfish ponds
to reduce the amount of time aerators
have to run.Bragg, however, isn’t waiting on
another grant to expand the use of
biodiesel. As his combine cuts
through waist-high soybeans, harvesting
its own fuel, he already is
making plans to purchase a pickup
truck that will burn an 80 percent
biodiesel blend. For Bragg, it’s a
way to honor his friend who is
fighting in Iraq, but it also makes
good business sense.”If I’m a corn farmer, I want to
burn ethanol. If I’m a soybean
farmer, I’m going to burn biodiesel.
If I’m a cotton farmer, I’m going to
buy cotton instead of polyester,”
Bragg said. “That ought to be the
standard. It is with cotton; it ought
to be with grain crops, too.”

View Related Articles