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Cedar Rapids Biofuels Panel Shares Merits of Biodiesel

Article cover photo
Grant Kimberley (left),Tom Brooks, (middle)and Dave Walton, (right) shared insights into the biodiesel industry at the Iowa Ideas Conference in Cedar Rapids. (Photo Credit: Katie James/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager


In the third annual Iowa Ideas Conference hosted by the Cedar Rapids Gazette, three biodiesel industry leaders spoke to a diverse audience on the benefits of the homegrown fuel.

The panel consisted of Grant Kimberley, director of market development for the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board (IBB); Tom Brooks, general manager of Western Dubuque Biodiesel and Dave Walton, a soybean farmer near Wilton and director on both the ISA and IBB boards.

Brooks, the biodiesel processing facility general manager is optimistic about the future of this renewable fuel.

“We project a four-billion-gallon industry by 2020,” said Brooks. “In the next five to ten years, an additional 1 billion to 1.5 billion gallons is expected for the industry.”

Brooks says the plant is focusing beyond the usual truck, tractor and train diesel markets and looking at other large consumers of diesel fuel.

“Our fuels are very compatible with all diesel engines,” he added. “A rule goes into effect in January that requires ocean vessels to burn cleaner fuel. Biodiesel provides a solution to that.”

Cleaner fuel is a fact when it comes to soy-based biodiesel. According to Kimberley, biodiesel has the highest — and continuously growing — return on units of energy.

“For each unit of energy spent procuring biodiesel, we get over five units in return,” he said. “This has gone up from three units a few years back.”

Biodiesel is the only advanced biofuel that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 90%, depending on feedstock. With states like California buckling down on carbon reduction, biodiesel is a realistic option that requires no change to infrastructure, Kimberley said.

“Biodiesel is harvesting the energy of the sun,” said Kimberley. “That’s the most sustainable energy source we’re ever going to find.”

No stranger to the need of sustainability, Walton uses biodiesel in his truck and equipment, as well as his off-farm vehicles. Answering a question from the audience regarding previous quality issues, Walton said he recognizes that past mistakes can leave people unnecessarily wary.

“The industry self-policed and got our quality back on track,” he said. “Now every biodiesel plant conforms to the BQ9000 standard which is one of the highest-quality fuels you can use. As farmers, we can’t afford down time, whether it be with our truck or equipment in the spring or fall. When I fuel up with biodiesel, I know I don’t have to worry about that.”

The Eastern Iowa farmer isn’t the only one driving his trucks worry-free.

“I was in New York City and I saw a fleet garage for one of their fire departments,” he recalled. “Every diesel engine was running biodiesel year-round.”

When Walton asked about the decision to utilize the renewable fuel, the fleet manager said he knew it was a success when nobody said a word to the manager regarding the change.

“If biodiesel is good enough for New York City fire trucks, it’s good enough for me,” Walton added.

Further questions from the audience allowed panelists to share their message to presidential candidates regarding biodiesel.

“Stability is the message we need to give to candidates,” said Brooks. “They need to understand that in the absence of biofuels, there is only petroleum. I’d encourage candidates to see the real science, and don’t take big oil’s word over ours.”

With the panel’s timely occurrence during the reveal of a Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) agreement, the three biodiesel experts weighed in on the obstacles facing the biodiesel industry leading to the highly-anticipated announcement. Most notably, a record number of waivers granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) favoring petroleum refiners undercut domestic demand for biodiesel. The total number of gallons lost through the waivers essentially eliminated the entire state of Iowa’s yearly biodiesel production – 365 million gallons.

“We’re not saying there can’t be waivers,” said Brooks. “We’re just saying they can’t go back and add it to the piggy bank.”

When EPA waivers are granted, it softens demand and undercuts Renewable Volume Obligations for the coming years, adding uncertainty for the struggling biodiesel industry.

His hesitation toward the RFS announcement stems from caution learned working in agriculture.

“The farming community has been promised a lot of things over the years that don’t come true,” he added. “So, until this deal is signed, and the ink is dry, we don’t have a lot of comfortable feelings about these big policy issues.”

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and any progress with China has  been discussed but still await final confirmation. These policy and trade agreement uncertainties continue to weigh on the minds – and pocketbooks – of Iowa soybean farmers.

Kimberley summed up the biodiesel industry’s struggle with federal policy by comparing it to Charlie Brown’s attempt to kick the football, only to have Lucy continuously move it.

Despite the federal policy uncertainties and hesitation toward the recently-announced deal, the panel agreed on one thing for certain – the effectiveness and sustainability of biodiesel production for the farmer, motorists and the environment.

Contact Katie James at

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.