NBB In Sight

Fuel Quality: Even Napoleon Had His Watergate, Part II of II
By Joe Jobe | December 15, 2006
The beautiful thing about Yogi Berra is that nobody really knew whether his nuggets of wisdom were intentional or not. One of my favorite sayings of his is, "You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going because you might not get there."

As we head into a new year, our industry finds itself at the proverbial fork in the road. Unlike Yogi, we can't just head in any direction. We have to know where we are going and how to get there.

One thing that will help us find our way to becoming a major player in the nation's energy supply is quality. We recently learned of some disappointing fuel quality results. A national study, funded by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, found that half of anonymous biodiesel samples pulled between November 2005 and July 2006 were out of spec on at least one parameter. That includes one-third of the samples that were out of spec on total glycerin. If this sounds like "déjà vu all over again," as Yogi would say, you're right. That's the same issue that caused some filter clogging problems in Minnesota last year.

These results are quite simply unacceptable. This underscores the need for enforcement agencies to take action against entities that aren't producing biodiesel that meets the existing ASTM D 6751 standard. The NBB, by direction of the board, started calling for active enforcement months ago during a fuel policy change in its bylaws. This puts us in the unusual position of a trade association whose members are actively seeking to have themselves policed. I think that shows how serious we are about turning quality around.

To that end, as I mentioned in last month's letter, the NBB has made great progress with its Fuel Quality Outreach Program. We have made contact with all state divisions of weights and measures, and encouraged them to adopt ASTM D 6751 into the laws that regulate fuel quality. Currently, half of the states have done so, and an additional 13 states are planning to adopt the specification or are studying it. Ten states now proactively test biodiesel or biodiesel blends, including Minnesota, where all diesel fuel contains 2 percent biodiesel.

In addition, the biodiesel industry, through the NBB, has done the following:

--Worked diligently with the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. EPA and state weights and measures bureaus on enforcing fuel quality
--Teamed up with the Petroleum Marketers Association of America to issue a "Winter Weather Advisory" to fuel suppliers, advising them to take samples of fuel, ensure a certificate of analysis for every batch and take other precautions
--Recommended that all consumers buy fuel from BQ-9000 companies
--Developed an online Fuel Quality Enforcement Guide at www.biodiesel.org/
resources/fuelqualityguide that helps people take action against a company they suspect is not producing spec fuel

In the past year, industry growth was tremendous as the number of U.S. plants nearly doubled, and hundreds more retailers and distributors began selling biodiesel. Demand is up. Producers may have a temptation to produce as much biodiesel as possible as quickly as possible, and some may be making a business decision to shortcut testing.

I am heartened by the fact that, overall, the biodiesel industry's commitment to fuel quality is growing. This is exemplified by a six-fold increase in the number of biodiesel producers completing the BQ-9000 voluntary certification program. There are now three certified marketers and 14 accredited producers. Those companies account for more than 40 percent of the U.S. biodiesel production capacity. In Minnesota, all three major producers are now accredited. Sampling done by the state Division of Weights and Measures and fuel transporter Magellan Mid-Stream Partners in recent weeks found that all Minnesota biodiesel was in spec at the plants and at the terminal. That's good news.

As Yogi said, "There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em." But you can try. This is a wake-up call for those companies that have decided to shortcut the production process. It's time to get on the ball or leave the game.
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