MANKATO – For its first in-person office event in more than a year, Minnesota Soybean went big, drawing elected officials and farm group leaders to its Mankato office to highlight the organization’s latest checkoff projects and policy priorities.
“It’s so nice to visit in person again,” U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said upon arrival to Minnesota Soybean’s garage, where the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) stationed its Plasma Blue reactor unit.
Smith visited to promote the American Rescue Plan and President Biden’s infrastructure proposal, while learning more about Plasma Blue and how homegrown biodiesel continues to be a clean energy solution. She was joined by state legislators Sen. Nick Frentz, Rep. Luke Frederick and representatives from Minnesota Pork, Minnesota Corn and Minnesota Farm Bureau.
“We’ve got to decarbonize, and we’ve got to make our move now,” said Frentz, who is ranking minority member of Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee. “Biodiesel is definitely a part of that.”
Council CEO Tom Slunecka briefed Sen. Smith on a host of checkoff investments, led by Plasma Blue, which was developed about five years ago by Shaobo Deng at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca. Plasma Blue, which is now owned by MSR&PC, is a unique reactor technology for use in the transesterification process within a biodiesel plant. By using readily available standard electricity, this technology provides operational energy-cost savings while more fully converting oils and reagents used in the biodiesel production process.
“Never has biodiesel been able to be produced on this small of a footprint, and this is the technology that can make that happen,” Slunecka said. “Plasma Blue is the evolution of biodiesel.”
Darin Johnson, secretary of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, said Plasma Blue has the potential to transform the way the industry produces biodiesel.
“It’s limitless what this thing can do,” said Johnson, a Wells farmer. “It’s a good product for us as farmers.”
Smith complimented growers and Minnesota Soybean for embracing renewable practices that help improve rural economies.
“We are moving to a clean energy future,” Smith said, “and clean energy has to be good for ag.”
Slunecka also underscored the effects of COVID-19 on the Ag Innovation Campus. The crush facility, which is set to being production next year, has seen material costs spike nearly 50% since the pandemic began. The AIC, with advocacy support from MSGA, is calling on Minnesota’s congressional delegation to help steer federal COVID-related funds to help soften the impact felt from the cost increases.
“This is a one-of-a-kind facility,” Slunecka said. “But the price has gone up dramatically, and that’s all as a result of COVID.”
Slunecka also emphasized that the facility will be working on cover crops, which were cited as a key priority in President Biden’s address to Congress in April. Smith indicated she’d follow up with the president.
“It’s so timely we’re having this conversation,” she said.
Slunecka and Council Vice Chair Joe Serbus also delivered updates on other farmer-led checkoff investments, including the Council’s summer-long Metro Bus biodiesel promotion and the Driving Soy campaign, which kicks into gear throughout June and July.
“If you want to get something done, ask a bunch of farmers,” Slunecka said. “They’ll get the job done.”