Biodiesel History Targets Future Growth

Posted on June 21st, 2019

Headshot of Don ScottBefore World War I, the diesel engine was a heavy, cantankerous contraption, good only for stationary power and large, waterborne vessels. Clessie Cummins changed all that. First incorporated in 1919, it took Cummins a decade to successfully design, build, and install the first diesel engine in a passenger car. That innovation made diesel engines high-revving and light enough that they began to be used in automobiles for their reliability and fuel economy.

Earlier this month, Cummins celebrated their 100-year anniversary. To commemorate, Cummins headquarters and midrange engine plant celebrated with a focus on the first generation of light and medium duty pickups featuring Cummins diesel engines. The Cummins-powered Dodge Ram pickup of the late 1980’s signaled broad changes in U.S. diesel acceptance. The performance and reliability of those engines reversed the stigma associated with diesel passenger cars from the 1970s. Cummins became a household name, and the popularity of diesel pickups skyrocketed to include the big three in the U.S., as well as import pickups now available with diesel engines. To honor this history, Cummins memorialized the first production Dodge Ram diesel in their museum as they welcome thousands to celebrate their anniversary.

NBB participated by recognizing the history of the biodiesel industry, which coincidentally began with the same model of truck and engine. In 1991, the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council funded research at the University of Missouri to conduct the first biodiesel testing in the U.S. With funding from the National Biodiesel Foundation, Don Scott has rescued and revived the original test platform for that research. The first biodiesel truck had been parked on a back lot at the University since 2002. When Don learned that the University planned to scrap the truck, he rallied an intervention to save this piece of history. The first biodiesel truck is now back on its feet after 16 years of neglect. NBB embraces the opportunity to share their collective history with the most influential diesel engine manufacturer as they look toward the future and greater incorporation of biomass-based diesel. With carbon policy on the horizon, biodiesel offers the lowest cost of ownership to diesel customers. This is advantageous to fleets as well as engine manufactures that produce the most versatile powerplants.

Photo of First Biodiesel Truck

The origin of the biodiesel industry is also instructive to its future. Nearly 30 years ago, Midwest farmers had the foresight to find new uses for surplus vegetable oil. The factors that created that glut of oil continue to this day and will only accelerate in the future. As world population and affluence increase, so does the demand for protein. When we grow protein to feed the world, plants produce more fat than we can eat. Combined with animal fats, this means we will be faced with increasing volumes of potential biodiesel feedstock. We can use these surpluses to displace petroleum, reduce emissions, and support U.S. jobs. Our history tells us that we must continue to grow, and the world will be a better place if we do.

Don Scott serves as the Director of Sustainability for the National Biodiesel Board. His previous experiences in protecting water resources include eleven years as an Environmental Engineer for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Chief of Surface Water for the Missouri Water Resources Center. He can be reached at dscott@biodiesel.org.

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