The Valley Co-op Oil Mill in Harlingen, Texas, has entered the bioenergy business, converting cottonseed into biodiesel.

“It's a way to add value to cottonseed,” said Hollis Sullivan, CEO, during the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.

The biodiesel plant will not be up to full capacity until March or April. He said the process offers cotton producers an additional profit opportunity and also helps the nation become more self-reliant.

Self-reliance is a long-term goal, said Calvin Parnell, Director, center for Agricultural Air Quality Engineering and Science, Texas A&M. “The United States consumes 25 percent of the world's energy.” He said various targets to decrease dependence on foreign oil include a 30 percent reduction by 2030 or a 25 percent cut by 2025.

Cottonseed oil may help move the United States toward those goals. Cottonseed oil provides 130,000 BTUs per gallon, the same as diesel fuel. Gasoline comes in at 120,000 and ethanol at 80,000 BTUs.

The big advantage of ethanol and cottonseed oil, Parnell said, is that both are renewable fuels.

He said cotton gins could become self-sufficient by producing the energy required to process cotton, plus more for the market. “We need to seek every opportunity we can,” he said.

“An energy efficient plant is a goal,” said Sullivan. “We want to see what can be done. We can fill up trucks with bio-fuel when they bring in cotton. But we're also looking for other opportunities. In 20 years, anyone who does not seize available opportunities will be left behind. We're interested in adding anything that adds value to the crop.”

Sullivan said the Harlingen Co-op will be the first cottonseed mill with a biodiesel plant. But he doesn't expect it to be the only one. Anyone interested in following their lead, he said, “should do their homework. Study other biodiesel plants and either build close to the raw material or make arrangements for a consistent supply.”

He said managing waste water also requires planning.

Sullivan said prospective bio-diesel entrepreneurs should look into possible government programs and incentives.

“I think this is a viable option. It's a marketable product. And we have to adapt to survive.”