Sunflowers are a beautiful sight in Vermont, dotting the rural landscape and iconic farms with bursts of autumnal glory. Elsewhere these flowers of the sun billow in the breeze for all to enjoy until they wilt and die with the close of the season. But not in Vermont.
In the Green Mountain State sunflowers are an emerging source of renewable energy. Sunflowers are grown on several farms and then harvested for their oilseeds which are then converted to biodiesel and livestock feed. Sunflower or oilseed biodiesel helps farmers lower fuel and feed costs, explore feed and fertilizer co-products, be more self-sufficient, and rely less of fossil fuels.
A new pilot project with Vermont electric utility company, Green Mountain Power, is poised to further strengthen Vermont’s position as a leading innovator in local and clean renewable energy production.
State Line Biofuel Farm in Shaftsbury and Ekolott Farm in Newbury are growing a combined 30 acres of sunflowers for Green Mountain Power. Once the sunflowers wilt this fall, they will be harvested, dried, and pressed. The raw oil will be converted into biodiesel, or B100 and the nutrient rich meal is then fed to farm animals. The fuel will be used in Green Mountain Power’s vehicle fleet and to help heat buildings. Depending on the crops’ success, the cost of fuel to Green Mountain Power could be up to one dollar less than current B100 prices.
“Projects like this really help support Vermont farmers, plus it’s beautiful to see the fields of sunflowers and even more beautiful to realize it will provide a clean and local power source,” says John Williamson of State Line Farm Biofuels.
Over the years, State Line Biofuel Farm and Ekolott Farm have been working closely with UVM Extension for technical research, analysis, and support, and the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative for infrastructure development to increase their energy self-sufficiency and develop financially sustainable oilseed-to-biodiesel processing business models.
“Several pioneering farmers in Vermont now have the necessary infrastructure to produce sustainable biodiesel,” notes Chris Callahan, UVM Extension Agricultural Engineer. “This is a unique model: local production for local use. The partnership with Green Mountain Power means more gallons will be made which means lower cost for everyone.”
Green Mountain Power President and CEO Mary Powell states, “the goal is for local biodiesel production to both shave fuel costs for our customers while helping to develop new markets for locally produced liquid fuels. We see this benefitting local farms and customers as we work together to provide more clean cost-effective and reliable power.”
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative draws the connection between diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use. Aiming to supply farm inputs and reduce fossil fuel consumption, this program supports research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy. Since 2003 the program has focused on biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae production for biofuels and wastewater management. A program on the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative partners with UVM Extension to support oilseed and grass energy research, analysis, and infrastructure development and funding was secured by US Senator Patrick Leahy and the US Department of Energy. Learn more at VermontBioenergy.com.