Freeways-to-fuel harvest paves the way for biodiesel production on unused municipal, military and other lands

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Source: National Biodiesel Board

Twenty miles north of Salt Lake City, a flowery, red and yellow safflower crop is being harvested. These test plots at the roadside simulation lab at Utah Botanical Center are part of an innovative “Freeways-to-Fuel” project sponsored by the Utah Department of Transportation , the National Biodiesel Board and others.

“This project signals a breakthrough in how America may capitalize on millions of acres of idle lands along roadsides as well as at military bases, airports and local municipalities,” said NBB CEO Joe Jobe.

Safflower, canola and soybeans are examples of the oilseed crops that can be grown and harvested to simultaneously produce vegetable oil for biodiesel, as well protein for humans and livestock. The Freeways-to-Fuel initiative also offers a way for governments to save money. It reduces costs for mowing and otherwise maintaining the lands.

Dallas Hanks, a research scientist with Utah State University, has calculated arid regions, like Utah, spend approximately $300 per mile to maintain roadside lands. Areas with more rainfall would spend more.

“Biodiesel is the most diverse fuel on the planet, and we are pleased to have supported the Freeways-to-Fuel program, which can expand that reach even more,” said Jobe. “This initiative can also complement urban farming projects offering fruits and vegetables alongside oilseed crops.”

Salt Lake City and County officials intend to put the concept to work on 200 acres of vacant land near the airport that is held for a future wastewater treatment plant. Currently, the land grows only weeds and even caught fire in early August. Now the city and county intend to use the land to grow safflower to make biodiesel.

“The beauty of this concept is that the preparation required to make the land productive for biodiesel will also make it more economical for the city and county to use portions of the same land, or other idle publicly-owned parcels, for community-supported farming of fruits and vegetables,” Hanks said. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will donate time and supplies to support the project.

Salt Lake County Council member Jim Bradley said, “I think it's the wave of the future as governments transform wasted resources into opportunities to produce food and fuel for their governments and communities. This effort is also important because it can save taxpayer money while still allowing for protected open space. For Salt Lake County this program makes a lot of sense. We make land available and let farmers do the rest. ”

In addition to NBB and UDOT, the U.S. Departments of Transportation supported the Freeways-to-Fuel project in Utah that also has academic partners across the nation as well as corporate supporters like New Holland Agriculture.

Biodiesel is a cleaner-burning diesel alternative that improves air quality and creates green-collar jobs in American communities. The NBB is the national trade association of the biodiesel industry and is the coordinating body for biodiesel research and development in the United States.

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