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Emerging Frontiers in Bioenergy

Can consumers grow sunflowers for biodiesel?

By Sarah Galbraith, program manager of the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative

Farmers in Vermont are making their own biodiesel from sunflowers, and maybe you have wondered: Can I do that? (Check out the video “Growing Sunflowers for Biodiesel” at www.vermontbioenergy.com/oilseeds.) You may be interested in increasing self-sufficiency, replacing fossil fuel with a renewable, or saving $2.00 per gallon on diesel fuel. But can the average landowner grow his or her own biodiesel?

B100 fuel is being produced on Vermont farms, but can consumers grow their own biodiesel? Photo: Vermont Bioenergy Initiative

Land is the first thing needed to grow sunflowers. But most homesteaders or homeowners are not likely to have the equipment required for producing their own biodiesel, like a combine for harvesting the sunflowers, an oilseed press for extracting oil and a processor for converting the oil to biodiesel. These are expensive pieces of equipment that require a good deal of know-how, and the payback just isn’t there for the small-time producer.

Processing can be done, however, at some on-farm facilities in Vermont, including Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh, Stateline Farm in North Bennington and other private farms, or in conjunction with other farms growing oilseeds like Woods Market Garden in Brandon and Ekolott Farm in Newbury. Growers located near these farms could consider growing oilseeds on their land and bringing them to a nearby facility for processing into biodiesel.

Those wishing to purchase locally-grown biodiesel can also look to Full Sun Company in Middlebury (http://www.fullsuncompany.com/), who will be providing to consumers biodiesel fuel made from recycled cooking oil produced at their Vermont mill and made from locally-grown oilseeds like soybeans, canola and sunflowers.

For growers that do have the land available for oilseed production and a place to process their seed, the growing manual “Oilseed Production in the Northeast” by Dr. Heather Darby at University of Vermont Extension is a useful resource. Those considering the economics of this endeavor should download the “Oilseed Cost and Profit Calculator” produced by Chris Callahan PE at UVM Extension. For these resources and more, including videos, image galleries, reports and helpful links, visit www.vermontbioenergy.com/oilseeds.

The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund and partners with other organizations expanding the use of renewable energy in Vermont, such as Renewable Energy Vermont and the Vermont Energy Action Network. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative also coordinates crossover with the Vermont Farm to Plate Network by providing resources and technical assistance to farmers, facilities, and communities to support energy crops to be grown alongside food production. www.VermontBioenergy.com.

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