INDIANAPOLIS — Ever wonder where the corn and soybeans that occupy Indiana’s fields go after they’re harvested?
Odds are, you might be putting the crops you see along the interstate right back into your car.
According to the Indiana Department of Agriculture, much of Indiana’s corn and soybean crops are used in ethanol and biodiesel. Common household items like carpet are also made with corn and soybeans, per the IDSA.
In past years, Indiana has produced about 324 million bushels of soybeans per harvest. The ISDA reported that farmers in the Hoosier State planted more than 5.9 million acres-worth of soybeans in 2018.
According to the Indiana Office of Energy Development, soybeans, fats and greases are used to make biodiesel in Indiana. With five biodiesel plants in the state, Indiana produces 1.2 billion gallons of the fuel a year, per the ISDA.
Biodiesel is a cleaner-burning renewable fuel that can be used in most diesel engines, according to the ISDA. Only the oil portion of soybeans are used to make biodiesel, leaving the protein-rich part of the plant for livestock to eat.
The ISDA has also reported that biodiesel can reduce greenhouse gases by as much as 86% because it is non-toxic and biodegradable. The National Biodiesel Board has indicated that, for every unit of fossil energy it takes to produce biodiesel, 5.5 units of renewable energy are returned.
The ISDA’s website states that biodiesel is also better for Indiana’s air, as it reduces the amount of black smoke, carbon monoxide and harmful hydrocarbons produced by diesel vehicles. The organization also claims biodiesel performs similarly to regular U.S. diesel fuel.
A blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% regular diesel can provide similar fuel economy, horsepower and torque as a full tank of regular diesel, according to the ISDA. Biodiesel also boosts engine lubricity more than regular petroleum diesel. Per Stanadyne Automotive Corp, a 2% blend of biodiesel increases lubricity by 66%.
While soybeans help make biodiesel, corn is extensively used in the production of ethanol — an alcohol typically created from corn starches and sugars. According to the IOED, ethanol is commonly blended with gasoline to provide different fuel options for drivers at the pump like E10, E15 and E85.
The United State Department of Agriculture reported that Indiana produced 1.03 billion bushels of corn in 2021. Much of that corn was turned into fuel at the Hoosier State’s 14 ethanol plants, per the ISDA.
According to the IOED, Indiana can produce up to 1.2 billion gallons of ethanol per year, accounting for about 7% of the nation’s total. Over 200 gas stations in the Hoosier State offer flex fuels to consumers as a result.
The ISDA has reported that ethanol burns cleaner and cooler than conventional gas, reducing greenhouse gases by up to 57%. Experts with the ISDA believe that, if every consumer switched to E15 fuel, 8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas could be eliminated. Removing that much greenhouse gas from the environment without flex fuels would require 1.35 million cars be taken off U.S. roadways.
Ethanol also helps the U.S. reduce its dependence on foreign countries for fuel and energy. According to the ISDA, ethanol makes the U.S. more energy independent by displacing some foreign oil imported to America. Per the ISDA, the U.S. has imported as much as 7 billion gallons of foreign oil per day in the past.
Additionally, ethanol plays a role in the Hoosier State’s rich racing history. All of NASCAR’s stock cars use a blend of E15. Similarly, Indy cars run on E85, according to the ISDA.
IOED data indicates that Indiana currently ranks fifth and sixth in the nation in ethanol and biodiesel production, respectively.