‘The next big thing’: MN farmers see bright future at Clean Fuels Conference

Consumers have more fuel and energy options than ever before. More and more, they are making the choice for clean fuels. Farmer leaders from Minnesota, along with industry partners – including fuel distributors and fuel producers – participated in the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council’s (MSR&PC) annual See For Yourself (SFY) trip to the Clean Fuels Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, Feb. 4-8, where they had the opportunity first hand to see the historic accomplishments and advancements being made in the clean fuels industry.

“See for Yourself is a way for farmer leaders to see firsthand the return on investment they are making through the checkoff program,” said Mike Youngerberg, senior director of product development & commercialization for Minnesota Soybean. “In this case, our soybean farmers get the chance to see the advancements we are making with biodiesel and clean fuels.”

The world of clean fuels, as it turns out, is becoming bigger and broader. Formerly known as the Biodiesel Conference, the Clean Fuels Conference now encompasses the growing markets of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel.

“When this conference first started, all we were talking about was biodiesel, and we’ve made tremendous headway in that industry since then,” said Bob Worth, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. “Now there is a ton of buzz around sustainable aviation fuel, a term that didn’t even exist a few years ago.”

Clean fuels in the fast lane

During the conference, which was hosted by the Clean Fuels Alliance America, major companies including PepsiCo, Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) and American Airlines all showcased their commitment to using clean fuels. PepsiCo, who was awarded the CFAA Inspiration Award at the conference, has a growing fleet of trucks powered by B100 (100% biodiesel), BNSF is implementing renewable diesel with a biodiesel blend to their locomotives, and American Airlines is planning to use 10% SAF by 2030 to lower their carbon footprint and reduce emissions.

MSR&PC Chair Tom Frisch (right) talks the future of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel with MSGA President Bob Worth at the 2024 Clean Fuels Conference in Forth Worth, Texas.

“What stands out to me is the significant demand from large companies across the country making the commitment to clean fuels and PepsiCo is a prime example of that,” said MSR&PC Director and SFY lead farmer Jim Willers of Luverne, who has been involved in the growth of biodiesel in Minnesota for more than 20 years. “We no longer need to push a market for biodiesel like we did 10 years ago. It’s pulling us along for the ride.”

To add some context into the growth of the clean fuels industry, last year the industry produced more than 4 billion gallons in clean fuels, an increase of 33% over the year before.

“U.S. agriculture needs the next big thing to stay competitive with the rest of the world,” said Fairmont farmer Lawrence Sukalski, who sits on both the United Soybean Board and MSGA. “Clean fuels is that next big thing.”

Minnesota is a national leader in biodiesel with the current capacity to produce more than 85 million gallons a year. In 2018, it became the first state in the country to require a B20 biodiesel blend. Minnesota farmers see the return on investment: Biodiesel increases the value of soybeans by over $1 per bushel.

This year marked the 16th that MSR&PC has hosted a SFY in conjunction with the Clean Fuels Conference. Participants also attended and received an orientational crash course in the clean fuels industry, networked with industry partners and toured BNSF’s headquarters in Fort Worth.

For first-time participant and MSR&PC Chair Tom Frisch, the See for Yourself experience was an eye-opening look at a booming industry that has benefited from soy checkoff investments.

“Anytime you can connect farmers with industry leaders, you can learn so much more about the market and where it’s headed,” said Frisch. “I took the opportunity to take a deep dive into the complicated alphabet soup of the clean fuels world. RVOs, RINS, RFS. … You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Also participating in the See for Yourself trip were MSR&PC CEO Tom Slunecka, MSGA Director and Clean Fuels Alliance America Governing Board member Chris Hill from Brewster, along with District 7 Director Ron Obermoller, who attended on behalf of the Minnesota Soy Processors.

Follow The Conversation