EPA offers guidance to producers

By Ron Kotrba | January 01, 2008
In late October, the U.S. EPA issued a report, titled "Guidance for Biodiesel Producers and Biodiesel Blenders/Users," with the intent to clarify its regulatory requirements to which all U.S. biodiesel producers are held accountable.

Although the issuance wasn't necessarily something new, it served as a reminder that the EPA enforces the appropriate measures to ensure quality throughout the fuel supply chain. The eight-page document, which is available on the EPA's Web site, addresses the actions that the agency has the authority to take against producers of out-of-spec product. It also includes updates on biodiesel emissions characteristics.

Through its guidance, the EPA reiterates its authority to penalize producers taking shortcuts on quality assurance, which some say is more than a friendly reminder. "There are assets that must be protected," an ASTM committee member told Biodiesel Magazine. Among those assets are company reputations. Some fuel distributors have concerns about off-spec biodiesel merging into the mainstream, where accountability would be more difficult to track unless ground-level EPA enforcement of biodiesel quality was enacted. The EPA reminds methyl-ester biodiesel producers that if their product doesn't meet ASTM D 6751 specs, monetary penalties up to $32,500 per day may be issued. The document also provides warning that credentialed EPA inspectors have authority to enter premises at any given time for inspection to determine compliance with all registration and quality measurements, including gathering fuel samples and information from plant records.

For blenders and end-users, the agency says B20 and lower blends are more popular with consumers and therefore more closely monitored for quality. Higher blends should be approached on a case-by-case basis. Original engine manufacturer Chrysler approved B20 in Dodge Ram fleet applications, for instance, but the EPA reminds users that most OEMs only approve biodiesel use in blends up to 5 percent.
In addition to the review of its regulatory requirements, the agency also rebuked the emissions results it released five years ago. Its 2002 biodiesel emissions analysis indicated that biodiesel blends lead to higher nitrogen oxide emissions, but the EPA now admits that study was deficient in engine sample representation and the emulation of real-world cycle and load activity. "The magnitude of biodiesel NOx impact still remains controversial," the agency stated. "[The] EPA has recently shown experimentally that this impact is proportional to test cycle load. Using this information and working in cooperation with the stakeholders, [the] EPA has developed a proposal for a Collaborative Biodiesel Emission Test Program to address the NOx issue. The funding for this test program is currently uncertain. However, we continue to believe that a well-designed study such as this is necessary to accurately determine the effect of biodiesel on emissions. In addition, [the] EPA is currently updating the 2002 biodiesel study using test data that have become available in recent years."

This conclusion is significant considering state, regional and national organizations rely on the EPA to make informed decisions about the use of biodiesel. For example, the Texas Low-Emission Diesel debate in the populous eastern portion of Texas may have been avoided without the EPA's 2002 data indicating that biodiesel slightly increased NOx, the target effluent in the EPA's charge to reduce mobile diesel emissions.

While the EPA's future role in assuring biodiesel quality is uncertain, biodiesel advocates believe recent measures taken by the industry to improve ASTM D 6751 specs, and stricter process management fueled by fears of the unknown, may keep the federal regulatory wolves at bay-for a while anyway.
 
 
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