The Regulatory Requirements of a Biodiesel Producer

By Jenny Boeckman | May 25, 2007
Making biodiesel is easy, but what about the rest of the paperwork, permits, plans, programs, training and record-keeping? There are a lot of regulatory issues facing the producer, and there isn't a simple list that includes everything that must be done. It's not easy for a start-up company to know all the requirements. Even plants in full production may not know if they are compliant with all the regulatory agencies. Once a plant is up and running, there is little time for anything but keeping production running smoothly.

Use the following information as a guide to make sure you have everything in place to be in compliance with various regulatory agencies:

Permits to Construct

Air quality construction permit: Permits are required for the construction, installation or modification of equipment that emits one of seven criteria pollutants or 203 hazardous air pollutants (HAP). The main air emission from biodiesel production is methanol (a criteria and HAP pollutant) from the handling, storage and distillation processes.

New Source Performance Standards: Additional air emission standards, referred to as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), apply to certain types of equipment. NSPS standards require qualitative and/or quantitative performance testing once the equipment is operational.

Wastewater NPDES permit: If a biodiesel plant doesn't discharge to a publicly owned treatment works, industrial wastewater from plant operations can't be discharged until a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is obtained. The permit will specify the limits on the types and amounts of pollutants that can be discharged to a stream or applied to land.

Pretreatment permit: A biodiesel plant must obtain a pretreatment permit before discharging wastewater to a publicly owned treatment facility, because it may contribute a significant hydraulic or pollutant load to the wastewater treatment facility.

Domestic wastewater National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit: Plants that opt to dispose of domestic waste either to the surface (lagoon) or below-grade (absorption field) will be required to permit the septic system.

Storm water NPDES permit for construction activities: Construction projects with a land disturbance greater than one acre are required to obtain an NPDES general permit for "construction activities." Contractors must develop and implement a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) and use Best Management Practices (BMP) to prevent and mitigate soil erosion and the potential off-site effects of water pollutants carried in storm water runoff.

Flammable and combustible liquids storage permit: State law regulates facilities that store, handle, or use flammable or combustible liquids. A permit from the state fire marshal is required to construct, install or modify storage facilities. Many states have adopted the "National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 30 Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code (2000 edition). Feedstock (vegetable and rendered oil) and methyl ester (biodiesel) have a flash point greater than 300 degrees Fahrenheit. These are Class IIIB combustible liquids, defined as having a flash point greater than 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Class IIIB combustibles aren't tightly regulated by the state fire code. Methanol has a flash point of 52 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point around 148 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a Class IB flammable liquid, defined as having a flash point less than 73 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Class IB flammables are tightly regulated by the state fire code.

Permits to Operate

Air quality operating permit: All sources of air pollution, excluding de minimis sources, are required to obtain an operating permit once the installation or modification is complete. Operating permits are legally enforceable documents that enable authorities to more effectively enforce air pollution rules by recording all permit conditions in one document, and requiring reporting to track emissions and compliance. Conditions of a construction permit will carry over to the operating permit.

Storm water NPDES permit for industrial activities: Biodiesel plants are required to obtain an NPDES general permit for "industrial activities." Plants must develop and implement an SWPPP and use BMP to prevent and mitigate the potential off-site effects of water pollutants carried in storm water runoff. Site drainage must flow to a storm water retention pond. An annual review must be conducted to ensure and document compliance.

Plans and Programs

Occupational Safety and Health Administration general industry safety programs: Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910, all employers are required to provide a safe work place for their employees. A comprehensive safety program involves many aspects, including education; training; drills; the dissemination of information; inspections; monitoring; testing; analysis; record-keeping; and written plans, procedures and programs.

OSHA Process Safety Management: 29 CFR 1910.119 requires facilities that process 10,000 pounds of flammable liquids and gases (methanol) or threshold quantities of one of 137 highly hazardous chemicals (HHCs) to implement a systematic safety management system to prevent or minimize the effect of a catastrophic release of toxic, reactive, flammable or explosive HHCs. Similar to the Risk Management Program, Process Safety Management is a detailed safety program that is specific to each process. It requires additional accident prevention exercises, training and documentation.

Department of Transportation (DOT) site Vulnerability Assessment, Site Security Plan and Training: 49 CFR Part 172 requires facilities that transport or offer to transport hazardous materials in placardable amounts to conduct a Site Vulnerability Assessment and implement a Site Security Plan. All employees who transport and handle hazardous materials are required to have hazardous material training every three years. Plants are also required to obtain an annual DOT HazMat Registration under USDOT 49 CFR Part 107.

Risk Management Program: Clean Air Act Section 112r, codified in 40 CFR Part 68, requires facilities that handle any one of 77 toxic substances and 63 flammable substances in threshold quantities to implement a Risk Management Program that identifies and controls on-site hazards to prevent potential off-site effects. Off-site release modeling is required. A nine-section summary of the program, called a Risk Management Plan (RMP), must initially be submitted to the U.S. EPA and resubmitted at least every five years thereafter. Hydrochloric acid (37 percent concentration or greater) of 15,000 pounds qualifies. Risk management rules don't apply to methanol, sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid in concentrations less than 37 percent. They aren't listed substances under 40 CFR Part 68.130.

Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plan: 40 CFR Part 112 requires facilities that handle bulk oil (55 gallons or more) in aboveground storage tanks with threshold amounts of (1,320 gallons)to prepare and implement a Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plan to prevent an oil spill from reaching navigable waters of the United States. Storage capacities over 10,000 gallons must be initially certified by a licensed engineer and recertified at least once every five years thereafter. Monthly documented inspections and annual training are required.


Emission Inventory Questionnaire: As a condition of an air operating permit, facilities are required to submit calculations of their annual emissions based on throughput by April 1 after each calendar year of operation.

Chemical Inventory Reporting (Tier II): Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act (SARA) Title III Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) Section 312, codified in 40 CFR Part 370, requires facilities that have on hand at any time hazardous chemicals in excess of 10,000 pounds or one of 378 extremely hazardous substances in reportable quantities, to report the maximum amounts of these substances to the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) and their local fire department on a Tier II form annually by March 1 for the preceding calendar year. Filing methods vary among states including paper, diskettes and web based.

Toxic Release Inventory: SARA Title III EPCRA Section 313, codified in 40 CFR Part 372, requires facilities that process 25,000 pounds or use 10,000 pounds of one of 300-plus toxic chemicals to report releases in the form of a mass balance to the EPA on Form R or Form A. Reports must be submitted annually by July 1 for the preceding calendar year. Toxic chemicals used in the biodiesel industry include methanol.

Jenny Boeckman is the manager of communications with Regulatory Consultants Inc. (RCI). Boeckman has been guiding clients through regulatory questions and concerns for over 10 years. RCI is an industry leader providing businesses with innovative solutions to address regulatory compliance and risk management for more than 18 years. Boeckman can be reached at (800) 888-9596, ext. 213, or

The claims and statements made in this article belong exclusively to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Biodiesel Magazine or its advertisers. All questions pertaining to this article should be directed to the author(s).
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