How biodiesel started as an idea and turned into an industry


CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) – It’s commonly known among farmers that soybean oil is being added to diesel fuel to lower emissions, but how did that all begin? Stu Ellis encountered an old friend last week who got it started about 30 years ago.

His name is Kenlon Johannes, and he was executive director of the Missouri Soybean Association when soybean oil-based renewable diesel fuel got its start.

Stu Ellis: Where did you run with this to the point we are using 3 billion gallons a year now?

Kenlon Johannes: Well, Stu, I don’t think people realize that you were somewhat instrumental in the beginning of the biodiesel industry in the United States back in 1991, when you and I met in the Missouri Soybean Association’s office in Jefferson city, Missouri and dropped off a paper that said the University of Missouri at Columbia had done on developing biodiesel from canola. It perturbed me a bit, that the University of Missouri was looking into this because soybean oil was ten cents a pound at that time.  We were floating in soybean oil. So, you dropping off that paper got me excited and made me approach our checkoff board in Missouri to look into how we might develop this.

Stu Ellis: And it kind of went from there. The industry adopted it, the nation adopted it and it has become one of those market development “stars.”

Kenlon Johannes: The farmers led the way. The farmers provided all the funding early on, almost all the funding, right from the start for the first 10 years, and kept working away at it until we had this “instant success,” that is up to 3 billion gallons a year which is just, I don’t know if we even thought it would do that. Its just kind of overwhelming to think about it now.

Stu Ellis: What did you do to incite that interest in farmers?

Kenlon Johannes: It’s kind of a combination of persistence, vision and naiveite, that we thought we could take away 10% of petroleum industry’s markets in the United States. It just appeared to be the right thing to do.

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