Net energy balance of small-scale on-farm biodiesel production from canola and soybean

Seth R. Fore, Paul Porter, William Lazarus

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72 Scopus citations


One necessary criterion for a biofuel to be a sustainable alternative to the petroleum fuels it displaces is a positive net energy balance. This study estimated the net energy ratio (NER), net energy balance (NEB), and net energy yield (NEY) of small-scale on-farm production of canola [Brassica napus (L.)] and soybean [Glycine max (L.)] biodiesel in the upper Midwest. Direct and embodied energy inputs based on well-defined system boundaries and contemporary data were used to estimate the energy requirement of crop production, oil extraction, and biofuel processing. The NER of canola biodiesel was 1.78 compared with 2.05 for soybean biodiesel. Canola biodiesel had a NEB of 0.66 MJ MJ-1 of biofuel compared with 0.81 MJ MJ-1 for soybean biodiesel. The NEY of soybean biodiesel was 10,951 MJ ha-1, less than canola biodiesel which had a NEY of 11,353 MJ ha-1. Use of soybean as a biodiesel feedstock was more energetically efficient than canola primarily due to reduced nitrogen fertilizer requirement. In terms of energetic productivity, canola was a more productive biodiesel feedstock than soybean due to its higher oil content. A best-case scenario based on optimal feedstock yields, reduced fertilizer input, and advanced biofuel processing equipment suggested that potential gains in energetic efficiency was greater for canola than soybean. According to our results, small-scale on-farm biodiesel production using canola and soybean can be an energetically efficient way to produce energy for on-farm use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2234-2244
Number of pages11
JournalBiomass and Bioenergy
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Biodiesel
  • Biofuels
  • Energy balance
  • Net energy ratio
  • Small-scale


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