County invests in facility to provide biofuel for vehicles
By STEVE BROWN
CATHCART, Wash. -- By the time a couple of hundred acres of canola are harvested in Snohomish County this September, a crusher and dryer facility should be ready to help process it into biofuel.
An agreement between the county and Whole Energy, a biofuel company, has cleared the way for ordering and installing additional equipment at the crusher, according to Linda Neunzig, the county's agricultural coordinator.
The existing facility, which is certified organic, is capable of turning out food-grade cooking oil but not biodiesel. The new equipment will allow the oil to be "de-gummed," a cleaning process essential for biofuel production.
The meal left after the oil is extracted is suitable for livestock feed, and several farmers and a nearby feed mill will make use of that.
Matthew Zybas, solid waste director for Snohomish County, said $800,000 of the $1.2 million crusher was covered by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Washington State Department of Commerce. The balance came from the county solid waste division.
Andrew Corbin, Washington State University Extension agriculture educator, said interest in biofuels grew "four or five years back when they started the biodiesel initiative, making it worth exploring. The price dropped quickly after that."
He said he doesn't know what growers' planting plans were this year.
As for the problem of canola crops cross-pollinating with other brassica crops, Corbin said Skagit County, to the north, has a quarantine zone where canola isn't allowed.
Neunzig said canola yields on the west side of the Cascades have ranged from 1 to 1.75 tons per acre. According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, the national average yield in 2011 was about 0.75 tons per acre.
Canola is not the only feedstock option at the Cathcart facility. Barley, mustard, triticale and wheat have been processed there in the past.
"The additional equipment means farmers now have local opportunities to complete the process before selling to production companies," Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said.
"This follows through on our Focus-on-Farming commitment to expand opportunities that increase net revenues back to our farmers."
Snohomish County teamed up last year with General Biodiesel and PetroCard to provide a 40 percent blend of biodiesel for use in the county's diesel vehicles. Part of that fuel came from 8 tons of canola crushed at Cathcart.
Zybas said the county has been operating the crusher, but is looking for a farmer to take over the operation.