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Sidebar Feature   |  Spring 2006

Soybeans get alternative fuels off the ground

Corn is not the only commodity capable of producing alternative energy. Researcher Bernie Tao is a proponent of anything soybean derived. As the Indiana Soybean Board Professor in Soybean Utilization Research at Purdue University, Tao oversees student contests to create novel products from the bean. A soy heating oil won the competition in 2001.

Soybeans are also a component of biodiesel. Biodiesel can be mixed with petroleum fuel to run most diesel engines. Benefits of the renewable resource include reduced emissions and cleaner engines.

Tao's current soybean research has him looking to the sky for inspiration. “Aviation companies are under the gun environmentally,” Tao says. “They also are in a bind over high petrol prices—so having an environmentally beneficial, domestic fuel would be very desirable.”

Part of the solution to the airline industry's predicament may come in the form of a jet fuel developed in Tao's lab. This blend of 40 percent biodiesel with jet fuel will operate a jet engine without any modifications, as demonstrated during testing in a jet engine at the Purdue airport.

“We are moving from the laboratory one-liter processing scale to design a larger facility capable of producing hundreds of gallons, which is needed for commercial testing,” he says.

Discussions are underway with agencies that potentially may provide funding and a facility to give this fledgling fuel wings to fly.


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