Peter Probst, a self-professed “biodiesel enthusiast,” first gained his zeal for such fuels as a university student, and his passion continues full speed ahead.
In fact, he has made a business out of it.
Today, Probst is president of Indigenous Energy based in Chicago. He supports businesses and individuals converting to and using biofuels and promotes the use of such fuels. He consults for the Illinois Soybean Association.
“And I encourage fleets to join the B20 Club,” he said.
The B20 Club is a partnership between the ISA checkoff program and the American Lung Association that recognizes
Illinois-based organizations with a strong commitment to run fleets on biodiesel blends of 20% or greater.
Probst researches deterrents to using biodiesel and attempts to address them. He offers support to biodiesel users testing for fuel quality and provides research for legislation to provide incentives for biodiesel use.
He worked with the Illinois Soybean Association and others in getting the B20 bill passed in Illinois this year. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill incentivizing increasing blends of biodiesel into law in April.
For Ron Kindred, a corn and soybean farmer in central Illinois and ISA government relations committee chairman, “it felt pretty good” to get that incentive passed in Illinois. With soybean growers and biodiesel production here, it is a “win, win, win for farmers, consumers and the economy,” he said.
Kindred, who is vice chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association, uses a B11 blend on his farm in Atlanta, Ill.
“We hope to ramp up to B20,” he said.
Kindred first tried biodiesel 10 to 15 years ago when the first tax incentives started. His advice to farmers starting to use biodiesel is to treat storage tanks and tractors in the winter to avoid any issues with algae or quality. It’s worth the effort as biodiesel blends cost a little less than diesel now and are better for the environment, he said.
While studying electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Probst competed in the Ethanol Vehicle Challenge in 2000. The team won first place against 16 other engineering universities.
His interest continued to grow in fuels that had lower pollution, and he was inspired by people who converted vehicles to run on vegetable oil in the early days
“Vegetable oil was a big thing then — not a good thing,” he said.
As research progressed, more efficient, engine-friendly blends were found.
“Those early times were really exciting,” said Probst, who converted a Mercedes station wagon to run on vegetable oil and biodiesel.
Today he helps facilitate using modern biofuels for customers who may need help finding a nearby supplier, he said.
He will often talk to fleet managers, and his team even inspects retailers’ fuel tanks to make sure there isn’t a problem with sludge or sediment.
Probst remains keen on what biodiesel can do for the environment as well as being part of the food production process.
“Biodiesel isn’t food versus fuel. It’s food and fuel,” he said.
As demand grows, so does production. Only 20 years ago the U.S. production of biodiesel was about 10 million gallons annually. Today, the U.S. produces about 1.8 billion gallons annually and is expected to reach 6 billion gallons by 2030, Probst said.
Besides quantity, biodiesel has really improved in quality, Kindred said. Some people still remember how early biodiesel caused problems 20 years ago and are hesitant to try it again, the farmer said.
“Today is the best quality we’ve ever made. I think it will just continue to improve every year,” he said.
Today 40% of the soybeans produced in Illinois stay in the U.S. for crushing and the rest goes to export. The forecast is for that to be closer to 50-50 in the future, with the demand for biodiesel being part of that, said Andrew Larson, the Illinois Soybean Association director of government relations and strategy.
Larson’s message is there are more opportunities for soybean oil coming with biodiesel, renewable diesel and in the longer-term, aviation fuel being developed.
And while people’s attention is drawn to electric vehicles, it will be many years before the large commercial trucks could be switched to electric. In the meantime, more environmentally friendly fuel will still be needed, Larson said.