Thoughts on science… Soybeans as alternative fuel

Everyday, millions of people fuel up their cars at gas stations. In 2016, Americans consumed 392 million gallons of gasoline per day, the equivalent of 14 billion gallons in a year. As fossil fuel sources are depleted and prices of regular gas rise, ideas for alternative fuel sources are becoming more popular. Could soybeans be a viable alternative for fuel?

At this rate, in the next few years, gas will be available in limited amounts and it would benefit people who use it today and will use it in the future to look towards alternative fuels, like soybeans, for the country’s energy security.

A study done at the University of Minnesota points to the environmental benefits of biodiesel over ethanol. Biodiesel, a fuel derived from direct living matter and used as a substitute for diesel, produces 93 percent more energy than is required for its production per gallon and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent.

However, it was also shown that biodiesel would not be able to replace gas without having a drastic impact on food supply.  In the United States, roughly 95 percent of transportation runs on gasoline. If all American soybean production were dedicated to biofuels, the fuel would replace only 12 percent of gas demand and 6 percent of diesel demand. In addition, American farmers would not be able to produce enough feedstock to meet its needs. A higher yielding feedstock would be necessary for biodiesel to act as a substitute, and then it would substitute up to a quarter of imported petroleum in today’s market.

If companies are able to find an economically efficient way to extract oil from soybeans to create sufficient amounts of biodiesel, those key ingredients in chinese foods may become our next alternative to fuel.