Minnesota Raises the Bar

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal to implement a statewide B20 standard by 2015 didn't surprise residents as they were the first to fuel up with E10. Biodiesel Magazine talks to organizations tasked with meeting the state's aggressive renewable fuel mandates.
By Bryan Sims | November 01, 2007
Minnesota has long been known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." In light of the state's renewable energy goals, that nickname could be replaced with the "Land of Renewable Energy Opportunity." Minnesota was the first state in the nation to implement a statewide E10 mandate, and in 2005 it enacted the country's first B2 mandate, both of which are currently in effect. Minnesota is now poised to reaffirm its leadership role by pumping up the biodiesel sector.

In early August during a speech at Farmfest '07 in Redwood County, Minn., Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced a plan requiring the state to increase its biodiesel mandate incrementally from B2 to B20 by 2015-a tenfold increase in eight years. The governor's proposal calls for Minnesota to move to B5 by 2008, B10 by 2011, B15 by 2013 and B20 by 2015. "This is a state that has courageous legislators and administrators," says Ralph Groschen, agriculture and marketing specialist for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. In addition, "the private sector has been able to step up and hit the ball and the farmers are very supportive. It's just been a very good environment for something like this to happen."

The B20 proposal comes on the heels of the state's E20 by 2013 mandate, which was introduced in 2005. The ethanol mandate requires quite a bit of work, however, as the state must get approval from the U.S. EPA. Nevertheless, the mandates fit in nicely with Minnesota's initiative that 25 percent of all of Minnesota's energy, including fuel, come from renewable sources by 2025. Pawlenty intends to introduce the B20 mandate to the legislature next year.

In addition to his state role, as chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA), Pawlenty is in a position to spread his renewable energy advocacy to other states. In fact, he and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius launched the Securing a Clean Energy Future initiative to promote clean energy policies across the nation. The initiative is being led by a task force of governors representing a cross-section of the country. One of its duties is to promote nonpetroleum based fuels. According to the NGA, the initiative is "the first bipartisan, governor-led effort of such magnitude to address critical energy issues."

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Pawlenty has charged the Minnesota Biodiesel Task Force (MBTF) to promote and educate biodiesel producers and consumers and develop details for the proposed B20 mandate. The MBTF would present its recommendations to the Next Generation (NextGen) Energy Board where it will be thoroughly vetted and considered for legislative action. Established in 2003, the MBTF was formed to help the state carry out its B2 mandate in the fall of 2005 and to ensure a smooth introduction of biodiesel into the marketplace. The MBTF is comprised of representatives from fleet industries, petroleum marketers and farm cooperatives who work with the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), the American Lung Association, biodiesel producers and the Minnesota Department of Commerce Weights and Measures Division. The NextGen board was created as part of the Next Generation Energy Act, which was enacted in 2007. The act is designed to allow the state to meet energy savings goals, strengthen community-based energy development and reduce greenhouse gas. The NextGen board's role is to develop biofuels policies and to make recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature on how the state can efficiently achieve energy independence, sustain agricultural and natural resources and support the rural economy.

Quality Considerations
The MBTF plans to take a meticulous approach with regard to biodiesel quality, blending standards and performance in consumer vehicles, especially during the state's cold winters. "We want to be very certain that the quality meets the needs of what we have to have here in order to make this work," says Lance Peterson, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA), a member of the MBTF and a proponent of Pawlenty's plan. "We cannot have a situation come to the forefront where quality would be creating problems statewide." Minnesota has some experience dealing with biodiesel quality issues as its B2 mandate got off to a shaky start. In late 2005, state officials suspended the law requiring a 2 percent blend amid reports of filter clogging. Semi-truck drivers were hit especially hard and claimed that B2 cost them thousands of dollars in ruined equipment and lost productivity. Initial testing indicated an overabundance of glycerin in some B100 base stocks. To remedy the situation, the Minnesota Department of Commerce Weights and Measures Division granted a total of three waivers for the mandate to flush out the off-spec fuel.

Kelly Strebig, research engineer at the University of Minnesota's Center for Diesel Research (CRD), maintains that most complaints regarding B2 weren't associated with biodiesel. "A large number of problems we looked at were caused by microbial or fungal contaminations in ultra low sulfur diesel," Strebig told Biodiesel Magazine in April. "Sulfur is a natural killer of biological organisms, so with that removed there is a nontoxic environment for them to grow in." Good tank maintenance, especially for seasonal biodiesel users such as farmers and construction companies, is required to avoid such complications in the future. As far as the fuel waxing, which was causing problems in the northern areas of the country in the winter months, Strebig pointed out that petroleum diesel has a cloud point of approximately 5 degrees Fahrenheit. "When we get down around 25 to 30 below, the fuel just waxes," he said.

Nevertheless, the situation in Minnesota prompted the biodiesel industry to step up its focus on fuel quality. In June 2006, the NBB approved a comprehensive fuel quality policy. One issue the NBB is up against is that in the absence of federal quality standards for biodiesel and biodiesel blends, each state regulates the fuels differently. Recently, the board vowed to work diligently with state officials to track their efforts to adopt the ASTM D6751 fuel quality standard. "I think as we went around the state and listened to the folks who had concerns about [quality standards] in the past and talked with plants, we have a handle on the filter clogging." says Kristen Weeks-Duncanson, chairwoman of the MBTF. "We beefed up our BQ-9000 program and the certificate of analysis programs that the plants have instated. Inspections for specifications have been greatly enhanced." The NBB credits its voluntary BQ-9000 program for emphasizing the importance of producing fuel that meets ASTM specifications. Currently, 19 biodiesel producers are BQ-9000 accredited and produce fuel that meets ASTM D6751 specifications, including all three biodiesel production plants in Minnesota. Strebig doesn't think using B20 will be an issue as far as quality is concerned because some companies in the Minneapolis area are already using the biodiesel blend in their equipment with no problems. State officials, however, are cautiously optimistic about original equipment manufacturers (OEM) specifications when B15 and B20 are used in passenger vehicles. "We can make B20 work and it has worked," Strebig says. "I am concerned about vehicle warranties. Not all diesel engines and not all vehicle manufacturers extend their warranty coverage to B20. We certainly have to be sensitive to that issue."

The MBTF intends to approach and evaluate B20 questions and concerns as they surface from the general public, biodiesel organizations and state officials. "The goal of meeting B20 is certainly workable, but probably the biggest thing is that it takes a high level of management when moving from B2 to B20," Peterson says. "It's probably going to require a very strong effort in the area of education and communication, and that's something we're strongly promoting." To prevent any potential complications regarding the use of B20, Weeks-Duncanson emphasizes that residents must take the initiative to learn about biofuels. "We all have different components that we need to be educated about," she says. "Fact-finding and awareness is a big portion of how this is going to move together swiftly and smoothly." Chuck Neece, director of research and development for the Farmers Union Marketing & Processing Association (FUMPA), says a calculated approach is the best way to meet the B20 mandate. FUMPA constructed the state's first biodiesel facility in the winter of 2004, a 3 MMgy soy-based biodiesel plant in Redwood Falls. "It's kind of like eating an elephant," Neece says. "You have to identify where you're going to start and take the easiest pieces first."

Economic Advantage
Minnesota's biodiesel mandate is driven in part by a desire to boost the rural economy. Biodiesel and ethanol production has led to the creation of nearly 16,000 jobs and generates about $4 billion in total economic activity statewide each year. The MDA reports that renewable fuels production has led to a 13 percent increase in demand for the state's soybean crop and 31 percent expansion of instate soybean processing. Biodiesel production benefits farmers because it increases the demand for soybeans, Peterson says. Pawlenty's B20 proposal should be viewed not only as an economic benefit for rural economies but also as a way to reduce the country's dependence on imported fuel, Groschen says. "I think B20 is a way to continue to work toward larger and larger replacement of imported fossil fuels with domestic renewable fuel production," he says. "That's the ultimate goal."

Bryan Sims is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach him at bsims@bbibiofuels.com or (701) 746-8385.
 
 
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